and into the river we’d dive August 24, 2015Posted by shaunphilly in Polyamory.
Tags: boundaries, fear, river tubing, summer
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I have a thing about heights. Being up high, or even just standing next to subway tracks, is a source of sometimes significant anxiety, and it has always been that way. Thus, whenever I have been invited to sit on an outside patio on a high-rise building, take a look at a beautiful view from a cliff, or found myself in a position were falling was a possibility, I have a stew of unpleasant emotions stirring within me.
As a kid, when waiting for the subway (which I rode to and from school, and later work, every day), I would occasionally be faced with the reality of my mortality, and of the fear how easy it would be to just jump into those tracks at any moment.
Or slip. Or be peeking to see how close the train was along the tracks, and then lose my balance and just fall.
Or, you know, what was actually stopping me from jumping? And this last thought was not about depression or suicide, it was just a realization that I could, if I wanted to, just jump off that platform, that cliff, or that high-rise patio. This was a disquieting realization, that I started having when I was around 7 or 8, if my memory serves me.
Later, when I was in high school and I discovered philosophy, I read bits and pieces of Jean-Paul Sartre’s work, and was somewhat relieved, but also somewhat gobsmacked, that this experience was not mine alone.
Sartre describes the experience of radical freedom, and being burdened with the realities and consequences of that freedom, and I felt like I had found someone who understand what it was like inside my head, most of the time.
Because did I distrust myself? Was there reason to think that, given the radically free choices I could make, I could make one which could end or significantly damage my life? Always.
Sometimes, what becomes most clear to me is how easy it would be to destroy everything, how fragile it all is, and how even if you were to act in such a damaging way just because you can, you cannot take it back. Because knowing that you could have not done something (whatever that means, right Dan Dennett?*), when in fact you did is not sufficient if you did it, right?
Perhaps. But I think that we know ourselves best when we can tell the difference between something we could not help doing and something we could have done differently, but didn’t do so for bad reasons. And what’s worse is that when those who have been on the receiving end of those actions cannot understand, will not hear, or don’t care about that distinction.
River Tubing, Ropes, and climbing that tree
Cut to this past weekend.
A few weeks ago, I went to party at a college-friend’s house. I had not seen him in a couple of years, I had the day free, and so I drove out to the Lambertville area to see him with my girlfriend Kristen and some other people close to me, and we had a great time eating, drinking, and enjoying his well-kept grounds on a lovely summer day.
At the party, my friend mentioned that he was going river tubing on the Delaware, north of New Hope, PA, and this sounded like a lovely idea and so Kristen and I planned to go. While tubing (which was awesome), someone mentioned a rope swing. Having a good time and being carried away by their enthusiasm, I proclaimed some interest in swinging out on a rope. And we floated on some more.
And then I saw the rope.
I saw people swinging out, and it looked like fun. And then I saw the rickety steps going up the side of the tall tree from which the rope hung, and as I thought about climbing up to the platform (which was essentially some wood nailed to a tree), I felt my stomach tighten. But I climbed up anyway (not to the highest platform, because I’m not crazy like Kristen is, who climbed up there like she was strolling in the park), and grabbed a solid hold on the rope and felt the acceleration of gravity swing me over the water, until I felt the rope reach it’s maximum height, before it would swing back, and I launched myself into the air and landed safely into the water.
It was so much fun that I did it again. And, of course, my stomach clenched as I climbed the side of the tree the second time, but it didn’t stop me. The fear was still there. It was unpleasant, but I knew that the effort would be worth it. I would not allow my fear to prevent me from enjoying the thrill of flying through the air before plunging into the cool water on a hot summer day.
And then we got back onto our tubes, rafts, and inflatable boats and kept drifting down the river with friends.
And I’ll do it all again, if I’m lucky enough to have the chance.
We all have our internal emotional and psychological landscapes, and we all have these little things that are terrifying to us which seem like nothing to other people. Climbing up on that tree was not easy for me, but I knew there was a payoff that I wanted. And the second time climbing up? It was slightly less scary. Perhaps the 3rd and 4th, next time I float down the river, will be easier yet.
Boundaries are important to recognize and to communicate, both with ourselves and to others. But we need to push those boundaries from time to time, or we stagnate. Is something scary? Fine, but don’t let that, alone, stop you from making the attempt to find out why it is scary, if perhaps the fear is unfounded,, and maybe to see if there is something on the other side of that fear which is worth investigating anyway.
If you don’t push your own boundaries, and if you ask that others do not do it for you, then you will never grow. And sometime, the scariest things are the things we should challenge the most.
Carpe Diem (et noctis)!
FYI, The title of this post is derived fro a lyric from Bruce Springsteen’s The River, which was a favorite of mine from my childhood. Here it is, for all of you not familiar with The Boss’s deeper tracks.
* “l have not yet touched the central issue of free will, for I have not yet declared a position on the “could have done otherwise” principle: the principle that holds that one has acted freely (and responsibly) only if one could have done otherwise. It is time, at last, to turn to this central, stable area in the logical geography of the free will problem. I will show that this widely accepted principle is simply false.”
“The “could have done otherwise” principle has been debated for generations, and the favorite strategy of compatibilists – who must show that free will and determinism are compatible after all — is to maintain that “could have done otherwise” does not mean what it seems at first to mean; the sense of the phrase denied by determinism is irrelevant to the sense required for freedom.”
Bubbles and Reality August 18, 2015Posted by shaunphilly in Polyamory.
Tags: bubbles, identity, reality, self-image, truth
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Picture a child blowing bubbles, those glistening balls of air floating on the breeze, dancing, colliding, bursting, and perhaps a few being carried up and away until it leaves our vision. These generally spherical objects, puffs of air derived from within us, are compelling aesthetically, scientifically (because surface tension is a thing), and perhaps philosophically.
We use the concept of a bubble in a few ways. We use them as a metaphor for things like our social and/or cultural circle. In economics, it’s a metaphor for a period of growth which is artificially inflated, and thus will burst at some point leading to price crashes (like in 2007-2009, with the housing market crashed). In cosmology and theoretical physics, some use the analogy of a bubble to explain the topology of the universe.
In short, we like bubbles and use them as imagery for all sorts of things (including everything, it seems).
But, let’s get back to actual bubbles for a second. Essentially, a bubble is a segment of the environment we live within (an atmosphere of oxygen, carbon dioxide, and other constituent parts of the “air,”) separated from the rest of the atmosphere by a thin layer of liquid. Usually soap if we are “blowing bubbles.” There is no fundamental difference, generally, between what is inside and outside the bubble, it’s just that there is a barrier which is permeable, breakable, flexible. And yet it persists and separates what is within from the rest of the world. It is the barrier which defines the bubble, not its contents.
A bubble is a shape of reality, separated by a thin film which creates a temporary definition and shape isolated from the rest of the environment. It’s sort of like our worldviews. Our conclusions, opinions, and our very being, and our community all exist, metaphorically, like a bubble to the environment of humanity. Those opinions are made up of the same stuff as other people’s opinions, just shaped, prioritized, and arranged differently. Once again, it’s the barrier, the structure, and the perspective which separates one worldview from another, not the constituent parts.
We all are made of the same stuff. We have brains, organs, and bodies which have some basic similarities. We float about in our human environment, and our perceptions, experiences, emotions, and cognitive abilities are a permeable barrier which defines what is within us and what is not. And if you have ever gone through enough trauma, significant change, or have simply changed your mind in some significant way, then you might understand what it means to have your bubble “burst.”
But, perhaps similarly, if you have ever found yourself faced with something difficult to comprehend, tolerate, or believe, then you know what it’s like to have that surface tension hold.
And, unfortunately, the truth is not the criteria by which that surface tension holds or bursts. More often than not, it is our comfort, our emotional experience, which is the arbiter of this tension. Because in many cases, that surface tension holds in lies, holds back the truth, and sometimes that bubble is as much a hindrance towards understanding as it is a defense against harm, lies, and manipulation.
We love our own bubbles, and sometimes when we form that new bubble we shape it in comfortable ways. Sometimes it seems as if we were to allow our bubble to burst, we would cease to be. But this is an illusion. Our subjectivity, our pride, our fear, and our little bubbles of reality–our very identity–are made of the same stuff as what’s outside of it, and we might be better, more often than not, of simply bursting that bubble ourselves, from time to time.
We might be better questioning the wisdom of holding onto our identity, our voices, and our limits too tightly.
If you don’t believe me, then consider this; if you have ever seen someone you distrust, dislike, or disagree with in their ridiculous bubble, remember that you aren’t immune to the same psychological bubble maker in your own mind, and you are very likely doing the exact same thing they are doing. You are comfortable in your bubble just like they are.
Your insistence that you are right, you are better, and that you are different from them might be a complete lie created through the refraction of that liquid barrier between you and the world. That barrier, its tension holding together your very identity, acts like a lens to bias everything you see, and it might be better to break that lens now and then, insofar as you can, than to continually take pride in it because it is yours. That is the seed of narcissism and self-absorption.
We all are comfortable in the little lies we tell ourselves in order to make ourselves comfortable.
All of us. Without exception. Yes, even you, dear reader. And yes, even me.
Don’t let your pride and comfort keep you separate from reality. Burst your god damned bubble already.
Experience, bias, and precaution August 17, 2015Posted by shaunphilly in Polyamory.
Tags: #itsonlyagame, harassment, Ingress, threats
I have some experience, in my life, with people who are skilled at making themselves seem innocent when they are not, at directing a narrative which suits their needs, and cultivating followers who will stand up for them even when they act egregiously. Whether such people are sociopaths, narcissists, or just your common douchemonkeys is up for debate, but in any case such people will use small segments of truth to bend a narrative which will make them look like the victims.
And, I think, I found someone else who might–just might–fit into this mold. And what I have been asking myself, for the last couple of days, is whether I’m biased to see this pattern or if it’s actually what’s happening. So, dear reader, here’s a story about some of my weekend.
I play this GPS-based, augmented reality game called Ingress. In fact, I downloaded the game just over a year ago as you can see from this post. On Saturday evening, I got into my car with two other Resistance agents and went to take down a long set of level 8 Enlightened portals along Germantown Ave, starting in Mt. Airy all the way down near Broad street (which will make sense to other Philly folks). It’s a significant stretch of road, with dozens of portals, and it take a fair amount of effort to destroy them all.
As is natural, whenever any agents attack and destroy heavily upgraded and shielded areas, it’s an annoyance for the other faction. People will defend, and will ultimately rebuild their area, and sometimes it will lead to some complaining, personal (but generally harmless) animosity, and often retribution on your own areas where your faction holds more control.
It is, after all, a game.
Except some people take it way too seriously. About half way through our “booming” of Germantown Ave (AKA, destroying the virtual portals along the road, with our virtual bursters, which are virtually placed along the actual Germantown Ave), I received a few text messages.
OK, so I don’t have this number stored in my phone, and I don’t recognize it. So I ask who it is. Nothing abnormal here; every once in a while I get a strange text which someone has sent me by accident or from someone who I just recently gave my phone number.
I continue to boom Germanton, destroying portals and moving on to the next cluster, and my phone buzzes again, but I don’t read it immediately because I’m busy Ingressing.
And, I want to point out here, that it’s not uncommon for people to send messages, usually in game, to attackers. Sometimes it will amount to whining, playful taunting, and sometimes to actual annoyance.
Reaching out to agents of the other faction happens frequently, and in fact I’m in a Google hangout dedicated to cross-faction (X-faction) conversation and event planning (which I sometimes attend, because there are some very nice and fun people on both sides–and it’s a game which we play together).
But what happened next was beyond simple line-crossing.
Yeah… So that happened.
In recent weeks, I had been hearing, through conversations with other players, that there has been some drama with some players who were cheating, harassing, etc other people in the game. One of these players, and possibly some of his friends/cronies, had been a nuisance to people I know, and the week prior (the last time I boomed Germantown Ave) I was actually followed, by a car, by two Enlightened agents as I did so. One of those agents was this same person who I had heard bad things about, recently.
Now, being followed, whether in a car or on foot, while playing Ingress is not unheard of, and it’s usually actually harmless. After all, the game is location-based. It might be considered obsessive to do so for long periods of time, but it is a relatively normal part of the game. But this car was right on my bumper, and I managed to lose them (twice) because my car has a better turning radius than theirs and because I’m secretly a government agent trained in advanced urban driving techniques.
That last part might not be true.
What I didn’t know, but suspected (as do leaders of both factions still suspect), is whether the person who texted me is the same person who has been responsible for some recent harassment, cheating, and who was recently kicked out of PIE (the local Philly Enlightened community, which has many wonderful and very friendly people, despite their poor choice in factions :P).
(All I’m saying is that if you receive a cryptic message from an alien source which promises to help you transcend to the next level of human evolution, compare it to those promises of registry cleaners and other software that promise to make your computer run faster, and choose to not install the software (because it’s probably malware). In other words, resist the offer of infection. I’ll get off my Resistance soapbox, now.)
Anyway, I don’t know if they are the same person, but the coincidences seem too convenient for them to be purely random. This agent (who I will not name, publicly, until I’m sure) was the owner of many of the portals I was attacking, so he would have received notifications of my destroying them immediately. The last time I did so, he showed up within 15-20 minutes to follow me in my car (so he knows what me and my car look like). He has been accused of harassing other players as well. And, as I have found, he has previously been involved in a local NAZI skinhead organization (now, apparently, he’s associated himself with anti-fascist organization, become a vegan, and so seems to have turned around those aspects of his life). But he was also involved with a murder in 2000.
Apparently, he got probation, possibly due to his cooperating with law enforcement, but he has a past with organizations and individuals capable of violence, and now he’s [potentially] writing me threatening text messages, which make reference to people to whom I have, or have had, close relationships. This is a person who spent some effort to find out who I am, who I’m close to, and how to contact me.
And then, yesterday, as I’m walking my neighborhood, I see him walk into a restaurant very close to where I live. And he looks right at me. And then he destroys the portal that the restaurant sits on (which is fine; that’s part of the game). But then that player, who may or may not be the same person who sent me the texts, messages me in game saying he wants to talk to me, face-to-face.
Now, I’m reading this and I’m thinking a few things.
One, It’s possible that this man, nor any of his immediate friends, sent me that text message. It’s possible that he’s being falsely accused, and he’s trying to talk with me about it, perhaps to reassure me.
Two, it’s possible that he wants to beat the shit out of me, in broad daylight, in my neighborhood knowing he’ll be suspected and not care.
And three, (and this is the one that bothers me the most because it’s so familiar) He wants to talk really nice to me, face-to-face, because he knows he’s made a mistake and he wants to make himself look, especially to his friends, harmless and an innocent victim. In other words, he wants to massage his image to people around him as not a transgressor of common behavior and a person who threatens people’s health and possibly life over a game, but as a nice, misunderstood, reformed man.
That last possibility is scary to me because I have seen this behavior too many times in the last couple of years. Having lived with Wes Fenza, who is quite capable and willing to lie, manipulate, and twist the perceptions of the world around him to make himself look like the victim of everyone he harms, I have learned to recognize the signs of such behavior.
And then I start to self-doubt. I start to say “Am I priming myself to see this everywhere, now?”
Maybe. But what if I’m right? What is the price of trusting this man, and giving his friends, the community, etc more reason to think twice about a person who might be capable of harassment, assault, or even murder over a game is to risk my own safety? What if my willingness to trust him leads to his further harassing others because he’s able to make himself appear innocent, just like other people formerly in my life continue to do to this day?
My experience has taught me that some people simply do not care if they hurt people, so long as they can distract everyone to look the other direction, that they are the victim, etc. Hell, in some cases such people can apparently have their own partners change their mind about the severity of their own trauma when it’s exposed that their own husband did similar things to other people; gotta keep that cognitive dissonance in check after all, right? If the only way to keep your savior complex alive, after said savior has assaulted and traumatized several people, is to make that type of behavior not actually assault, in your mind, then that’s what you do. Hence, months of therapy, anger, and blame against other people who did the same to you must simply be washed away for the sake of the comfort of your soul.
But back to the question at hand; am I being overly-cautious? Am I biased to see manipulative behavior even when it’s not there? Maybe, but the simple fact is that I was told by other people I know that this person is manipulative in this way that I have seen so many times. I have been told to be careful with this person. And I have heard this from people from both factions, and that has to mean something.
Because, for example, much of last year was about making sure that the poly community knows that Wes Fenza is a dangerous predator, potentially a sociopath, and that he will not hesitate to fabricate, embellish, and seek out information which will make any of his accusers appear incredible, dangerous, or unstable rather than face his own mistakes. And this effort has paid off, as many people in the local and national community have distanced themselves from him (some simply don’t know, care, or are so dependent upon him that they ignore the claims against him). Others are complicate in his actions. Whats’ worst about it is that many of his cronies are people I’ve heard him shit-talk about several times. You know; before people started abandoning him and he had to hold onto like the pilot fish they are.
And it seems that some people have made similar efforts against this person with whom I interacted this past weekend. I want to say that where there is smoke there is fire. I do not want to simply dismiss the warnings from other people who have experience with this person, because the risk is too high. I will leave some small doubt that I might be wrong, but I will not risk my health and life to find out, so I’ll stay away.
Because even if I am biased (which I certainly am), I’ve decided to take the precautions necessary to keep me away from this person, just in case they were the person who sent me threatening texts. I have created a police report with all of the pertinent information, I have informed the local Ingress community, and I have told many people close to me about this so that they know that if I’m harassed, attacked, etc that there is someone to look into.
Because in the unlikely event that this person is who I suspect he is, he follows through with his threats, and the police catch him, then perhaps he won’t be able to weasel himself out of prison. Guilty people walk free in our communities all the time, unreformed, unrepentant, and they sleep well at night because they have convinced the world and themselves that they are innocent or they are incapable of the feelings of guilt or responsibility which most of us feel when he make mistakes.And since they keep getting away with it, they’ll be much more likely to keep harassing, threatening, and maybe even following through occasionally.
Such people need to be indicated, so that we all can know that there is reason to be cautious.
Because even if people can learn, change, grow, and rehabilitate, some simply do not want to. I’ve certainly made some mistakes myself (although, if you listen to some people those mistakes are much much worse than the truth, because some people have a casual relationship with the truth), and I have paid for those mistakes. The problem is that sometimes people don’t feel the need to learn, change, or grown because they never accepted their responsibility, and they will have no compunction about continuing to do what they want to do without the pang of conscience or remorse. And we should all make sure to be aware of such people, and keep ourselves safe.
Good luck, out there.
And if you decide to play Ingress, just remember that the Enlightenment want you to be brainwashed by aliens who claim to want to help us evolve. They’ll couch it in terms of transcending what we are now (which has some obvious Nietzsche-esque qualities), and creating something better for our future, but they probably also checked the box, when installing Flash Player, to include all the Yahoo crap. The Resistance simply want you to not accept this free gift of salvation, because most free gifts of salvation are bullshit.
And yet, there is that murderous AI ADA… Lesser of evils?
It’s just a game….
Power (a snippet) July 22, 2015Posted by shaunphilly in Polyamory.
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In continuing the saga of this series, I wanted to re-read a few sections of the first book in order to remind myself where I left off with certain characters. Here’s a little bit of a teaser from a latter chapter of that first book:
….He wanted to apologize, to ask forgiveness, but knew that there was too much to forgive. He tried to imagine a life without the control he had gotten used to. He tried to imagine living contently knowing what he did, knowing that it was his fault. He was so very angry at himself for allowing all of this. How had he been so proud, so certain, so wrong as to allow a lifetime as long as this to go without introspection? How had he not seen this.
But he was doing it again. He had thought about this. Deep down, he knew. But all the times that the thought poked its head out, he would turn the device up, stare into the cosmos, travel somewhere far and new, and shove it aside and drown it out. He allowed his desire to overshadow and protect his need to heal, grow, and to look at himself honestly. And now he couldn’t hide from it.
But he knew he would, again. He knew that as soon as this mood passed, he would hide it again, and all would be back to normal. How many times over the cycles had he cried like this, alone somewhere far from anyone else. How often had he thought it was time to give it up. Dozens? Hundreds? Thousands? He just didn’t know. As he thought about this, Camen’s voice interrupted and Mezar was startled into attention. Camen, looking at his old friend with his red eyes, wet cheeks, and quivering lips, said,
“Zuzek, we have a lot to catch up on. We still have work to do. There is much that you, as well as the others, can contribute. Please, Zuzek, work with us.”
Mezar didn’t protest the name this time. He looked at his friend as a decision reached him, and a sort of calm acceptance filled him. He would not let this cycle continue. He would not allow himself to relapse back into a new obsession to drown out the pain, the hurt, and the uncertainty. And in this moment he felt again like the Zuzek Damula he had once been, but yet still unable to erase the Mezar he had inhabited for so long.
And the quivering lips stopped, his eyes, still red, look at Camen with genuine affection and a smile—wide and unrepressed—slipped onto Zuzek Damula’s face as he spoke.
“Camen, I wish you the best in this work. I’m afraid that I cannot join you in it, as I have other plans. Take care, my friend. I’m so sorry, but I cannot help anymore. It’s, too much. Too hard. Perhaps there is something…easier.”
The armor, so strong it had become over the centuries, simply dissolved. And in a moment of sorrow, grief, and resignation, Zuzek Damula lived again. For a moment there, Mezar dissolved and Zuzek sat, with Jul’s arms around his chest as she sat behind him and held him, in the sunshine of disappeared history. The young, ambitious, ideological man lived again. But that man had come to realize that this feeling was temporary, transient, and that reality would flood back soon enough and it would all start again. That reality was too heavy, and so he allowed the moment to linger just a bit more, before the decision would come. Camen started to smile at seeing this, but the smile faded as something in Zuzek’s eyes worried him.
“No more,” was all Zuzek Damula said.
What are you doing? Camen thought.
Zuzek smiled contently at Camen for another moment before he closed his eyes. The crowd around them had gathered and were watching, silent, unsure what to say or do. Zuzek basked in the waning moments of that contentment and then watched for it to begin to fade, as it most certainly would. And as he felt the sadness deep down below, pushing itself through the contented smile the weight of the inevitable grief was too much.
There was no protection from its inevitability, and so with the gravity of memory, responsibility, and with what power he still had, Zuzek happily decided that it was enough. In the moments before that inevitability began to overtake him, Zuzek’s spine shook a bit and he took a deep breath and concentrated.
Any more than that would be too much of a spoiler.
Control (Prologue) July 20, 2015Posted by shaunphilly in Polyamory.
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It was such a waste. His hand, holding the glass. The glass. The bar it sat upon. The room. It was all such a waste of potential.
He closed his eyes, and for a moment he wasn’t there. He was afraid to explore that feeling, because he knew that it was just going to be another waste. And so he simply re-opened his eyes.
Behind the bar, around bottles of whiskey and Gin, he saw his eyes meet his own. They looked empty, but he knew better. Somewhere, under that armor he called his mind, was a raging beast. It was not thrashing, because its cage was too strong, and throwing itself at the wall, bars, and windows of such cage had only managed to bruise itself, but it was in there, pacing, seething, and anxiously repeating its mantra.
As he reflected on this, he became aware that he was squeezing the glass too hard, and his ligaments were taut with the strain of it. The glass was almost empty, his hand relaxed, and the reflection in the mirror started to soften.
“You feeling well, friend?”
The unexpected words shook him out of it a little, and as his face reddened, his eyes glanced towards the left and he forced a smirk—a smile being beyond him still—and glanced at the bartender.
“Yeah, just a bad day.”
That wasn’t actually true. This day had been fairly average. Bad week? Bad month? Bad year?
“Ah, I hear ya! Had a few mi’self, now an’ then,” answered the tallish, bearded, and exhausted-looking man. He looked like he was having a bad day, himself. They held each other’s eyes for a moment, and he shifted in his barstool and fidgeted with the glass. Now looking at the glass itself, He drained the rest of the ale from the glass, nudged it towards the bartender, and pulled out his wallet.
“One more, please.”
“Yes, that will be fine.”
As the bartender poured the pint, he leaned back a little in his chair. Now he didn’t have to force the smile, because one came on its own. It was all so absurd. All of it was just so damned absurd. But what could he do? Knowing it was absurd didn’t make it any more likely to change. He simply didn’t know what to do.
The anger subsided and gave way to the building buzz in his head from the ale. The beast inside had relaxed, and perhaps would take a nap, soon. That would be good. It was such an effort to keep the cage secure, and he felt better when he didn’t have to think about it. He felt better not having to bolster the cage when that beast was trying to get out, because he knew that if it did….
As the bartender slid the pint glass towards him, he traded his cash for it and took a preliminary sip. It was just what he expected; cool, velvety, and a touch creamy. The foam at the top stuck to his lip, and he had to brush it off with his sleeve. The bartender made change and left it on the bar between them, and then walked to his left, where two men had just sat down at the end of the bar, allowing the warm summer air in.
Looking in that direction, turning in his stool ever so slightly, he vaguely took in the room.
The bartender was talking with the men who had come in, but he was not interested in their words. He absently watched them laugh and quickly swallow a small glass of whiskey, as the bartender poured a second, but none of this was interesting.
There was something that was catching his eye, outside. He took another, larger, sip, and put the glass down. The late day sun was creating shadows on the street outside, and a few streams of it pierced the glass of the window of the pub. Within, the amiable men laughed with their glasses of whiskey in hand. Beyond them, outside, were some trees, swaying gently in the summer breeze.
Along the Liffey, the late day traffic was moderate and the world looked bright and possibly hopeful. It was Ireland; it would rain soon, probably. What was there, out there, for him? The world was bustling, people were going home after a day of work, and others were just standing and chatting with each other. He felt so distant from them. Even the men who were now sipping at their second whiskeys, just a couple of meters away, seemed so distant.
He felt lost, alone, and uncertain. And he was all of those things. He was very far from home, and had no way to get back. He was an alien here, speaking the language but not understanding the culture nor the people. And he didn’t know what to do.
There was so much to do, but he didn’t know where to start. He just didn’t know. But it was about time he did something.
He, of course, said this to himself every day. And every day he did nothing.
He had nothing to do, and no reason to do any of it.
With that thought, he picked up his wallet intending to put it back in his pocket. He peeked inside, and noticed he’d used the last of his bills to pay for that drink, and the nominal change on the bar left him with not enough for another. He peeked left, right, then closed his eyes. He hated doing it, but there was no other way, right now. He concentrated, and something in his mind became awake, terrifyingly awake, and then he did his business. After the thing went back asleep, his mind returned to the numbness within which he was more comfortable, and he took a deep breath of both relief and wonder. It was like slamming the door in the face of someone bringing you bad news. After you’ve done it, they are gone, but you also wonder if maybe you should invite them in, serve them tea, and find a way to deal with the bad news.
He would be serving no tea today, however. Today he would keep that door locked and pulled the curtains closed.
As he opened his eyes, he looked at the stack of large bills that had appeared in his wallet, knowing that this amount would be enough for a while, and he would not have to awaken the damned thing, again, for a while.
Which was good. Because turning the damned thing on made him feel unlike himself. It made him feel too big. It made him fear what he could, and perhaps what he should, be doing.
He put that out of his mind, and took another sip of ale.
Note to readers.
I have not been writing much, recently. I am feeling….a bit reticent. But I have to trust my instincts, eventually. This may or may not turn into a series of posts like this, which I’m hoping will turn into a larger project. This is only nominally edited, and it came to me spontaneously. The scene is from a larger saga, and if I keep working on this, the story will take shape within the boundaries of a very large universe in my head. Some of you, perhaps, might recognize something here, and may have guessed the name of our protagonist.
For now, it remains as it is. I must, I must, I must get back to writing. It is, I have found, the best sort of therapy, and is an exploration of the beasts within me, who do, indeed, need to be exercised. This is the best way I know how.
SCOTUS is giving me some hope, today June 26, 2015Posted by shaunphilly in Polyamory.
Tags: gay marriage
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In a world where there are more than enough reasons to be pessimistic, every once in a while something happens which makes me feel more optimistic.
I am happy that I now live in a country where anyone can marry anyone they want. Well, one at a time, for now. But it’s a start.
I’m smiling a little better today. Congratulations to all the couples out there who, finally, have the right to marry.
The Yellow Pill: fan-fictioning reality June 12, 2015Posted by shaunphilly in Polyamory.
Tags: cynicism, narrative, Subjectivity, truth
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A little over a week ago, I ran into this wonderful piece of writing on the interwebs that starts with this image (on the right), and then transforms into an interesting piece of science fiction writing.
I suggest you read through it. I think it’s good, despite it’s somewhat theistic leanings (it’s fantasy, after all; fantasy can have all sorts of impossible beings to make interesting stories). But something within this piece has stuck with me, because it resonates so well with my experience.
This is from the beginning of the story, describing what happens if you choose the “yellow pill” (emphasis mine):
People’s minds are heartbreaking. Not because people are so bad, but because they’re so good.
Nobody is the villain of their own life story. You must have read hundreds of minds by now, and it’s true. Everybody thinks of themselves as an honest guy or gal just trying to get by, constantly under assault by circumstances and The System and hundreds and hundreds of assholes. They don’t just sort of believe this. They really believe it. You almost believe it yourself, when you’re deep into a reading. You can very clearly see the structure of evidence they’ve built up to support their narrative, and even though it looks silly to you, you can see why they will never escape it from the inside. You can see how every insult, every failure, no matter how deserved, is a totally unexpected kick in the gut.
This has been ringing in my head for over a week now. No, it’s been ringing in my head for at least a year, but this put succinctly an idea I’ve been wrestling with for quite a while, especially recently.
It has been ringing in my head because I can see this, clearly, in every direction. And it’s bothering me because it rings an unpleasant chord within me. This image of the yellow pill messes with the nature of reality in subtle and terrifying ways. If you consider that your worldview is nothing but a set of mini-corrections of memory, interpretations, and bias-shifts of thousands upon thousands of moments, experiences, and interactions, it might turn out that your entire reality is a fiction where you are composing yourself to be the hero.
And if everyone sees themselves as the hero, at least the vast majority of them are wrong. More importantly, it might mean that your most cherished and emotionally powerful beliefs might be incorrect. And since you act based upon your beliefs….
You get the gist.
If you are not careful, you might shift from making yourself matter to making yourself matter at the expense of others. Because you don’t actually need to be a narcissistictic asshole, sociopath, or douchemuffin to do this; everyone does it. It is the nature of our minds to do this. and if you don’t think you are doing it, then you are probably doing it more than others.
We all are carrying slightly (or, perhaps, not-so-slightly) modified versions of reality with us, all the while interacting with people to swap those versions of reality to make social groups, cultures, etc. It’s like reality is some show we all watch, and we all write fan fiction of it in our heads. Our friends are the ones whose fan fiction is more like ours, or which at least fits into the same universe coherently. Those who are either simply distant or recognized enemies are writing fan fiction that conflicts with ours too much to coexist. But in their fan fiction, they are the heroes as much as we are in ours.
Who is right? Are you going to use your narrative to determine this? It’s like a question I sometimes ask Christians; if you read the Bible, how do you know whether God or Satan is the good character? No, seriously, how do you know? If you don’t have the cultural context of Christian history and culture, would it be obvious? I don’t think it would be.
In our heads, we think of ourselves as good,. Therefore, how we remember, interpret, and react to events to which we find ourselves subject will prop us up as the good character in the story. Nobody, except insofar as we are self-deprecating, writes ourselves as the anti-hero. And even if we are self-deprecating at times, in the larger narrative we see ourselves as the brave hero who circumvents, transcends, and rises above these moments of self-deprecation and challenge.
It rises like the three-edged sword of perspective; with the sun gleaming off of it, directly into one’s eye, blinding all who wield it.
I have certainly observed my own mind doing just this. In some of my private journal writing and therapy, I have experimented with articulating my own experiences in ways that is full of hurt, anger, and both blame and personal responsibility. In venting, I was allowing the emotions which were causing me strife to compose a story based in that pain. Such compositions of emotion, while compelling, are at bottom biased and subjective. What’s more, I noticed that at other, later, times when I tried to create a more nuanced and rational articulation, the narrative derived from emotion somehow seeped in, tainting the truth. We scoot towards the comfortable end of the interpretation couch, and thus couch our descriptions accordingly.
When we make decisions from a place of emotion and subjective narration, we are opening ourselves up to lying to ourselves for the sake of comfort and self-image, and thus (ultimately) to everyone else. What’s worse, is that because emotion is the basis for all motivation and reasoning, we can rationalize, quite easily, that we made a rational decision when we have done nothing of the sort. I do this. I recognize it. What bothers me is when I see other people doing it all the while being overtly defensive about where they are sitting on their couch. Pointing out, to them, that they are sitting on the dog will usually be met with anything except recognition of that fact.
Further, when our friends act to make us feel better about ourselves, they become pulled into the narrative through the compelling nature of that emotion. Our mirror neurons fire, we empathize, and we feel their pain and the nuance and skeptical parts of us get ignored. And slowly, ever so slowly, what actually happened gets lost among those closest to us, and we develop a nice, comfortable echo-chamber for our stories. The longer this happens, the harder it is to leave the bubble that you create for yourself to see anything except your own fan fiction. Eventually, you might start to believe that your fan fiction is the original story. And this is disappointing to me in a deep way which makes me profoundly sad.
What’s the solution?
I don’t know. I want to say that we can talk, allow ourselves to hear the things which are painful to hear, but I just don’t believe that’s possible in the vast majority of cases. Unless we are willing to consider that our whole worldview, everything we think about a subject, a person, or even ourselves might be completely wrong, there is no solution here. Because unless you have the courage to consider that those really deep, profound, big feelings that you have are lying to you and leading you astray, there’s no escaping that bubble.
And this is because we have, in our culture right now, this myth that our own story, our own voice, and our own feelings are of some primary importance above that of other things. Our own personal journey is held up not as a tool for gaining perspective, but for gaining Truth. And while such personal struggles towards finding what we believe and feel may give us a sense of empowerment, it does not necessarily bring us truth. Because whether it is someone else or ourselves which dictates the narrative, we live in a dictatorship.
You do not have your own truth. Believing such a thing traps us in a narrow window of belief in which we might insist upon sticking to our guns rather than hear what another might have to say from their own foxhole. There is a risk in “finding our own voice,” because it often leads to an unwarranted confidence in our conclusions. The personal achievement of discovering something you believe and feel strongly about may feel empowering, but that empowerment is often a mirage. Freeing ourselves from the power of others, for example, feels relatively powerful. But that’s exactly how that controlling person felt the entire time they controlled you. Again, a dictatorship is a dictatorship, whether its you in control or someone else. No sense in organizing a coup just to make yourself the dictator. I guarantee that as soon as you do, someone else will start planning the next coup.
It does not matter if you are only a dictator of yourself, because so long as you define the truth through your own subjectivity, you will inevitably impose your truth onto others, whether you wish to or not.
Strength of character does not come from finding our own voice. In fact, it’s impossible not to find our own voice. Every thought, feeling, or action is our own voice, whether it speaks in our interest or not. What our culture calls finding our own voice really is the willingness to accept your own narrative as a signpost towards TheTruth. This seems, to me, to be nothing more than self-absorption, obliviousness, and possibly narcissism. It is, in short, a idolatry of the self and our limitations of perspective. I want no part of it.
Strength of character comes from the willingness to silence your voice for a moment and allow your ears to function for a while. Because while your voice is talking, you’re not listening. And if that voice is singing in your head while you are listening, then you are not having a conversation at all, but merely posturing.
I’m going to fight the voice in my head that tells me I’m right, which refuses to hear what does not fit in my narrative, and that composes rather than listens.
Being hurt by others is no excuse to be self-absorbed and deaf. It will not offer protection nor wisdom.
For similar thoughts, see these posts:
Atlanta. Poly. Weekend. June 3, 2015Posted by shaunphilly in Personal, Polyamory.
Tags: #APW2015, Atlanta, self-reflection
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This weekend, I will be headed south. I’ll be leaving tomorrow afternoon and staying in Charlotte with Steph, of Love Infinitely, because it offers some break in the journey but also because I love seeing her. She’ll be spending some of the APW conference with me, where I’m ultimately headed, and I’m hoping that going to the conference this weekend can help inspire me, re-invigorate me, and maybe get me writing again.
Because, on paper, most things have been good recently. But I’m not writing, and me not writing is usually a sign that something is not right. Yes, I’m very busy with life, but even so I am feeling empty. I need a challenge. I need a project. I need something to give structure to the surge of energy under the surface.
The time I have spent in therapy, journaling, and talking with people close to me in recent months has been a sort-of project in itself, of course. I’m in a significant period of personal transition, after all. But none of this is translating into public writing. As a result, PolySkeptic.com has been somewhat quiet.
I apologize about that.
So, this weekend, I’m going to be in Atlanta. This means a couple of things; 1) I may get a chance to get some Ingress uniques, since when I lived down there Ingress did not yet exist. 2) It also means I get to relive some memories. Memories which used to be among the happiest I’ve ever had. Memories which are now painful. I can hope for some resolution, but I doubt it will come. Catharsis? Also doubtful. Perhaps some perspective is all I can hope for. Perhaps that is all we can ever expect, and be grateful that we have the ability to gain it’s favor.
It also means I get to inject myself into a polyamorous world for a weekend, and hopefully better define where I stand on some issues when it comes to that world. There was a time, as some readers may remember, when I would wax philosophical about polyamory at length with confidence. And now I’m not as confident.
It’s not that I’m less sure that I want to be polyamorous, but I’m less secure about what direction I want to take future relationships. A year ago, I was very certain. I wanted a family, children, and to get more comfortable settled into a life of less change and more establishment. Now, all that is changed, and I’m forced to reinvent myself in order to adjust.
And I’m not sure, yet, whether this is a good thing or a bad thing. I’m not sure if I’ll be happier this way or not. All I know is that I do not have a choice. I have to reinvent or risk dwelling and building more resentment. I have to live or accelerate the dying process.
But I have people who love me and know who I am. In the last year or so, I’ve had to read and listen to some people who think they know who I am, but who seem to be more motivated by self-interest and an unwillingness to perceive their own flaws or errors. It’s like watching fans of opposite teams argue; they reflect each other so well, and the very fact that they disagree in the same way and cannot see it is both frustrating and amusing. And my seeing it is an impotent power, because my own emotional attachment to my own “team” stirs up the same motivations. And then the image resolves and “we” see “we’ve” been staring at a blurry image of myself in the mirror, where the blur created a doubling of the image. Then I wonder if that’s what the mystics mean when they say that all of reality is a projection of some cosmic consciousness. Is maya a mirror or a wall?
If you can make sense of that last paragraph, then perhaps we understand each other already. Or, more likely, that made no sense to anyone except myself. Am I writing for you or for myself? Also, is there a difference, when we dig down deep?
And so I need this weekend. I need to get away. I need a vacation. I need to take some time to figure out what I need and what kind of people I want in my life. I’ve lived enough allowing other people to mistreat me to the point where my own flaws and limitations overshadow my ability to tolerate pain. And I’ve also allowed that pain to be the germination of my mistreating others. We all hurt each other and ourselves, and it’s when we can understand that sometimes both of those things happen because of its complement, that the cycle might end. Maybe. Hopefully.
I know who I am. What I’m working on is being OK with that person.
How’s that for a Wednesday morning?
In any case, I’ll see some of you in Atlanta this weekend.
Bouquets, brickbats, and trusting the untrustworthy May 24, 2015Posted by shaunphilly in Personal.
Tags: abuse, criticism, growth, trust
There is a distinction between trusting a person and trusting their ideas. Even the worst people can be right, even if they use the truth as a weapon. If you seek true understanding, it is worth paying attention to the criticism we receive, even if that bouquet of criticism is delivered with brickbats.
I have always been a person who is interested in self-improvement and introspective knowledge. This set of self-challenging ideals has been a large source of motivation for myself over the years, and it is not something which is likely to change. This predilection had led me to gain some fairly significant insight into not only myself, but of the people around me. The more intimate I am with them, the more I understand them. And while I’m nowhere near always right, the value here comes in that we have the ability to see where others cannot. Being even partially right where another cannot see at all is better than the myopia that would result in ignoring that perspective completely.
The knowledge gained from these perspectives can be used in ways that are loving, and ways that are not. And depending on all sorts of factors, such as our own emotional maturity, levels of selfishness and security, etc, that knowledge can be used in a myriad of ways both good and bad. If a person severely hurt, depressed, or otherwise behaviorally compromised then that understanding can become a weapon. It’s a part of being human.
And sometimes shit gets hard, and when we’re afraid and hurt what we know can become clothed in the ability to hurt other people. When this happens to me, for example, my intellectual understanding does not simply go away, it just gets loaded into a (metaphorical) gun. I’ve been hurt (let’s say), some way or another, and I know something relevant to the situation or to the person involved. And now I’m going to use that knowledge to re-direct that pain. I’m going to take that truth, wrap it in a napkin of my pain, and I’m going to show the person who hurt me how I feel.
It’s an unhealthy reaction, but it is a human one. I do not believe that this ability, propensity, and even occasional desire is unique or even rare; I think it’s part of being human, especially during difficult times in our lives. And when times get difficult, people hurt each other. And when people hurt each other, the ability to see nuance, truth, and even to recognize the truth in what people say is lost in the mire of that pain.
This is very unfortunate, and I believe that it is a mistake to ignore or distrust an idea simply because of it’s source. Skepticism asks us to seek evidence, and sometimes data comes from places that we may wish we had never gone, but it is data nonetheless. Ignoring an idea simply because the way it reached us was painful is a reactionary and emotional response, not a skeptical one.
When we dismiss a person, even the truth that they might have had for us gets thrown away as well. In my darkest moments, when I’m least certain, I might think that a person who has criticized me cruelly is completely right about me. But this is merely one side of a spectrum. Because other times, when feeling more secure, I think that that person is completely wrong, and therefore I don’t need to keep in consideration their opinion. How are these two things not the same error?
While we all can mock the words of a person we have dismissed as deplorable (and often for good reason), might it be that those words might have something to teach us, and that we are only dismissing them because those words were wrapped in pain and weaponized?
Is it possible to learn from the content of painful words, even from painful people? Can even pacifists learn from the technology of war?
Blind Spots and Bad Drivers
No matter how self-aware I am or become, there are always aspects of myself that I cannot see, at least not well. As I go through my life, I have built up habits which, as I “drive”through life I cannot see unless I specifically turn my attention to them. But I have to be willing to look at at them. And sometimes it’s painful to look in that direction, because that section of my universe may have emotional associations which I prefer to avoid, ignore, or forget.
It’s quite easy to forget (or to avoid) to look in that direction, as a result. It’s much more pleasant, and easier, not to. As an actively defensive driver (and yes, this is somewhat of a metaphor as well), I will keep an eye, sometimes, on where cars are relative to me and anticipate when a car is moving into my blind spots. Thus, sometimes I know a car is there even if I am not looking. But my attention is not perfect, and so if I plan on changing lanes, I need to peek anyway.
Especially if I’m tired, hurt, or otherwise emotionally distracted. I need to build up the habit to check where I can only see when I intentionally move my attention. And sometimes I need other people, even ones I may not like, to help me see those blind spots. Because quite often the people we clash with see things within ourselves that we do not like to see, and whether or not we trust their intentions, their perspective can often see what we cannot.
But here we need to be careful, because there are people who want to manipulate, control, and influence us in a direction that is not necessarily in our favor. There are people in the world who, despite being able to see some of the problems with our behavior and may, potentially, have something to teach us, they are more focused on their own interests to actually help us. They might tell us there is something in that blind spot which is not there (they may be projecting or are directly trying to deceive us). They may not tell you there is something there because they may think it’s not a big deal or whatever. Or, they just may not see it either, and are just as blind to that spot as you are.
And such people may leave us hurt, traumatized, and possibly less trusting. In those cases, we are then subject to over-compensating and becoming too focused on our own perspectives, and then we start to change lanes without looking. Trusting our own judgment is good, but sometimes it is the judgment of others, especially those who have hurt us, which we need especially because it is painful. There is a reason certain things are painful, and sometimes it’s because some truth is painful. In order to grow, we need to look at difficult truths and be willing to make effort to understand. Growth does not come from personal avoidance and people willing to simply be content with your own parochial myopia. Love and friendship is not merely celebrating what’s important to you, what you want, and what you can see. That is much closer to submissiveness to a quasi-narcissism than to love.
Challenge v. Control
I’ve been through, in my life, many experiences where people attempted (and often succeeded) to control me. I am also guilty of, in moments of fear, insecurity, and uncertainty, attempting (and sometimes succeeding) to control other people. I don’t like doing it, at all. I don’t want to do it, either. However, it’s part of the human dynamic and the distinction between the desire to help and to control is sometimes a very fine line, one which sometimes even the person perpetrating the advice/control cannot see. Navigating such treacherous waters is difficult on all sides, and only a few people actually want to and enjoy the kind of intentional manipulation of that control.
And when a person has found themselves in the position of being controlled, manipulated, and influenced too much, the reaction is often to become less accepting of opinion, of trying to trust their own instincts, and to sometimes close themselves off to what people who have hurt them have to say. And in many cases, this is for very good reason. But I am of the (probably controversial) opinion that it is especially the people who have hurt us that have the most to teach us.
Let me be clear. I am not saying that people who are abusive and controlling are right, especially about our character. What I am saying is that often pain comes from truth, even if that truth is twisted and deformed for the purposes of that control and abuse. The affect such people often have on us is so real because a true thing has been used as a weapon. The fact that a hammer can be used to hurt or kill does not invalidate the usefulness of the hammer in building all sorts of things.
The Devil will often use the truth, whether for a greater lie or for the sake of power, as it is said. But we are not talking about the Devil (and even if we were, in Jewish/Christian mythology, the Devil is merely an interlocutor and questioner of God, not a psychopath or even evil), we are talking about people. Of course, if a person is overwhelmingly using their hammer to attack rather than to build, then that person probably should not be trusted. But ignoring and invalidating everything such a person would say is akin to eliminating hammers in your life, rather than unwieldy carpenters.
Having been the receiver of a lot of criticism based upon some truth, it is hard to hear the parts that are true and to disregard the parts which are interpretation, attempts to hurt and control, and the parts which are not true. Being human, I have flaws and have made mistakes in my life. But I will not ignore or dismiss the words of critics and ideas whole-cloth, because to do so opens me up to the possibility of conflating the message with the messenger. Even an abusive person, in using abusive words and actions, may have some insight worth paying attention to (even if they don’t follow it themselves).
I don’t want anyone to be coerced, controlled, or abused, but I also don’t want people to shrink into their shells and accept only words from people who are willing to coddle them and not challenge their comfort zone. That is not love, that is how growth stagnates. There is a very difficult rope to walk on between self-absorbed obliviousness and accepting victimhood. One of the questiona I keep asking myself recently is whether one’s own obliviousness, self-absorption, and arrogance (sometimes framed as confidence or strength of will) is any better, in the long run, to being subject to the coercion and abuse from others. Either way, you are letting a limited perspective control you.
Trusting my own judgment and instincts is only in tension with, and not in contradiction to, hearing the criticisms of friends, acquaintance, or even foes. This is because even if I cannot trust a person’s intentions or motivations, sometimes I must trust their ability to see my blind spots when I can’t.
Therefore, I pay attention to criticisms, even from those I consider to be not trustworthy. I do not seek to internalize the ideas of abusive people, but to ignore their perspective seems equally problematic. The error in abusive control comes in the abuse, not necessarily the content. If abusive people could learn to find loving ways to show us what we cannot see, then nobody would need to shy away from their knowledge.
And this is as true of me as it is of anyone. My struggle is to find ways to share my perspective in ways that are not hurtful, and to understand the knowledge that even abusive people might have to teach me. I trust my judgment, but my judgment is limited. Those who can see some things that I can see, and some of those people are truly assholes, must complement what I can already see, or I risk the blindness and myopia that follows fear and mistrust.
Waits, measures, and standards April 22, 2015Posted by shaunphilly in Culture and Society.
Tags: confidence, Protagoras, truth
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Who are we to judge? Well, without us (or some other sentient species) the concept would be meaningless, right? Humanity is the source of all meaning (being that there are no gods and the universe is not conscious), and thus the only source for any judgment, criticism, or any analysis at all about anything, right?
So what of Protagoras’ statement on the right? Are we, as people, the measure of all things? Perhaps. But allow me to draw out two possible interpretive directions which we could go with this to tease out a potential problem here.
On one hand, this could be interpreted to mean that human individuals are the arbiter of measurement. On the other hand, we could take this to mean that the collective set of humanity is the scale of this measurement. This, of course, brings about all sorts of potential problems, because the first leads to a kind of solipsism or egoism in terms of our making sense of things, and the other opens up the many problems involved in communication, understanding, and all the related sociological and cultural issues related to agreement and disagreement.
And from either, chaos only can ensue.
Individual power and Groupthink
In some sense, I create my own meaning and value.* But I only can do so for my own life. If I were to try and spread this meaning any further, at best I could only make connections with people of similar perspectives (whether due to physiological similarity, common experiences, or some combination of both) or manipulate or control people (who have less strong senses of self worth, perhaps) towards opinions and behaviors which are in my own interest. The first is simply accident, the second is potentially abusive and toxic.
Strong, intelligent, and/or charismatic personalities have been finding those connections and leading people towards their values for as long as humans have been able to communicate concepts, very likely. The results of this type of human interaction over the millennia are every aspect of culture which we see; concepts, languages, religions, tribes, families, cults, etc. But there are many such people, with varying degrees of ability, intellect, and desire to control. Most of them will have little to no actual control.
And do not get me wrong, I’m not describing evil, sociopathic, power-hungry people solely. In fact, there are many people who have done many helpful and non-harmful things with their ability to control. This ability, itself, is neutral. It is merely a power set which has one type of effect on groups. We must distinguish between the ability to control and inspire people and the message being disseminated. Of course, certain types of messages will spread easier than others, and whether all of those viral ideas are bad or good are well beyond my ability to judge with any authority; I simply don’t have the data to support any hypothesis on the matter.
The bottom line here is that if I were to attempt to impose my own values onto the greater world, at best I could lead or join a group of people with similar ideas. At worst I could find people who would be willing to obediently submit to my ideas for reasons related to lack of self-worth, co-dependency, or simple apathy. In most cases, people end up in some space between those two, and the larger sociological and cultural effect is groups of people who stick with their own. In-group and out-group effects take shape, and the next thing you know is you have would-be autocrats and groups thinking similarly.
And not all of them will get along. It’s pretty universal, sociologically speaking.
So, what are the standards? Are they those of my heroes? My tribe? Are they mine? Are they the standards of my group? Probably one of those. But are they my standards because they are right, or are they right because they are my standards? And how much does the tribalistic and Groupthinky tendencies of all of us affect what standards I’ll think of as right? After all, I likely either chose my group because of our similar values, had my values shaped by someone else who was able to influence me, or influenced others towards my values to create a group of like-minded individuals.
At some point in the past, I would have written some nice-sounding composition about how the scientific method, logic, and critical thinking would step in here to be the arbiter. And, to some extent I believe this still; whatever method eliminates, best, personal bias and errors is extremely useful in determining what the truth is. But this is a naive and, I believe, short-sighted solution to the problem. It sounds nice, it’s technically true, but the simple fact is that it does not actually cut through all the noise.
It’s impotent against our tendencies to get stuck within our webs, whether those webs are of our own making, our hero’s making, or if we worked together on it as relative equals.
So, perhaps I should not be talking about patience. I, as those close to me know, struggle with patience. It is, in many ways, the point at which I am weakest. But, perhaps because of this, I have a somewhat privileged perspective over how powerful patience is. I see people who are, by nature, patient and I see how powerful it is. I also see how it’s lack (usually upon later reflection) can be a detriment.
OK, so what does that have to do with finding meaning, measuring the truth, or how to behave?
To be honest, I am not exactly sure yet. But that has been a thing I think about, recently. And I am not sure if I’ll ever figure it out, precisely. I have some thoughts which are partially formed, immature, and growing, but I do not want to spell that out yet. To do so would be to impatient. I need to allow myself to settle back, let the thoughts mature, and keep watching, listening, and when I better understand maybe I’ll come back to this.
For now, I don’t have a lot of answers. I have a lot of questions, uncertainties, and (certainly) insecurities. I have a lot og unknowns. They are becoming less terrifying to me, recently. They are still scary (and perhaps they always will be), but perhaps they will no longer compel impatient fearful reactions.
But, in the end, these are my values, my meanings, and my struggles. I can only hope that some of you recognize what I;m talking about and maybe you can identify with me in that sense. And if this leaves you cold or confused, then this is not for you.
So, what about Protagoras’ saying? Are we humans the measure of all things? Well, trivially yes. But right now I doubt that it’s any one of us, any group of us, or even any one philosophical system which is the scale upon which to make such measurements. That measurement, I think, comes more from those small, subtle moments of uncertainty and questions which are the connective tissue of growth and maturity.
My recommendation is to be wary of not only absolutes and certainties, but also over-confidence. Those who appear certain may not, in fact, have anything to offer you except their own certainty.
*That is, the extent to which we actually can choose our meaning and value is somewhat dependent upon whether our will is in any meaningful way free. In either case, the creation of this meaning happens within me, so free or not is is of my creation.