Comfort with insecurity December 3, 2010Posted by shaunphilly in religion, atheism, polyamory, culture.
Tags: fear, insecurity
I’m going to step out from writing about polyamory or religion for a moment. I want to talk about insecurity.
Yes, I am well aware that this personal issue which many people struggle with is applicable to both religion, relationships, and sexuality. And I am further aware that atheists and polyamorous people both can point to how insecurity and its various cohorts are relevant to their points of view, and I occasionally do make that point myself. But today I am not as interested in those issues as I am interested in a thought which occurred to me yesterday in a new way, and that is this;
It is important to be comfortable with your insecurity.
Anyone who knows me well knows that I struggle with insecurity. I have struggled with feelings of fear, inadequacy, and pessimism all of my life, although not consistently. For many years I was unable to recognize this for what it actually is, and then to subsequently look back on my life and recognize at what points these feelings were responsible for acting in ways which damaged friendships, romantic relationships, etc was valuable in shifting how to live my life. It has been a new struggle with mixed success, but one perseveres in failure and partial success towards a goal that may be ill-defined.
(And, of course, eventually it lead me to recognize when the fault was not mine, where at previous times in my life I may have blamed myself for the mistakes of another. Anyone who knows my story about moving to Atlanta with my ex and being abandoned and screwed over by her will know precisely what I’m talking about.)
My personal story aside for the moment, I was thinking yesterday about how there is a significant difference between people who are insecure, afraid, etc and who are aware of it, and (on the other hand) those for whom such a fact would be rejected or suppressed. It is my contention that the level of willingness to accept such an emotional foundation to how one interacts with and views the world is the beginning of transcending such insecurities. It is, in fact, the beginning of emotional security. Because while the fundamental hormonal and chemical realities open which the edifice of behavior is mounted are more difficult to change*, a willingness to be aware, observant, and proactive in planning our actions based upon this knowledge may be essential in behaving in less insecure ways.
Knowing you are insecure, you can be aware of how you will tend to act in situations of anxiety, fear, and discomfort and plan a set of actions that will counter-act such proclivities.
But this requires a willingness to introspect. You must be willing to see what lies inside the caverns of your (for a lack of a better word) soul in order to be aware of your personal psychological landscape. As was written upon the Oracle at Delphi in ancient Greece, yνῶθι σεαυτόν (‘know thyself’). This remains part of the core of my personal philosophy (along side carpe diem et noctis; ‘seize the day and the night’.) Without the willingness and ability to bare your whole self to, at least, your conscious self to the extent that such a feat is possible, there will be behaviors that will not really be wholly yours.
As Stuart Hampshire has said:
A man becomes more and more a free and responsible agent the more he at all times knows what he is doing.
And the more we know about the psychological mechanisms behind our thoughts and actions, the more we can be aware of what we are doing, and possibly why. And when we are willing to be honest with ourselves, possibly sharing those realities with those close to us, the more we can find ways to grow, mature, and generally better ourselves.
For good measure, I’ll add this quote of Hampshire:
As self-consciousness is a necessary prelude to greater freedom of will, so it is also a necessary prelude to a greater freedom of thought.
Because in the end, all life is but a footnote to George Lucas….
In Star Wars, Episode I, Yoda is faced with the young Anakin Skywalker in the Jedi Council. I don’t remember the exact words, but Yoda asked him something like “Afraid, are you? Miss your mother, do you?” The young man seems to be confused what that has to do with anything. Yoda’s response is memorable and prophetic, as he says that it has “everything” to do with it, then continues:
“Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, hate leads to suffering.”
And, of course, we all know what happens to Anakin’s fear on his path to becoming (spoiler alert) Darth Vader. We track his story of once where his fear of losing his mother become the key factor in his anger and hate for the village he slaughters, and the suffering he portrays in telling Padmé about his actions. And while most of us don’t slaughter villages of sand people, we do have moments like these from time to time.
We know that bullies act the way they do for a number of reasons, much of which is being abused themselves along with the subsequent feelings of insecurity, fear, etc. But there is also jealousy, which I think is related to this same insecurity and fear. In fact, I think much of human behavior which is damaging has an element of personal fear and insecurity to it. We will not all “turn to the dark side,” and become our own Darth Vaders, but many of us will act in less than admirable ways, clam up and retreat into ourselves, fail to tackle challenges, or pass up experiences because we are not feeling secure about ourselves, are afraid, etc.
This is my experience, and I have talked with others who share this experience. And I am sensitive to this part of human nature in a way that others may not be, and often see it in others. This should be part of growing up and maturing, but the simple fact is that many older people suffer form the effects of insecurity when I would expect to see them have left such things behind. It also effects young, beautiful, and intelligent people just as easily (that reference is for Ginny’s sake, who knows exactly who I’m talking about. I blogged about her about 6 months ago, if you are curious enough to put the puzzle together.)
I picture a world where people are willing to challenge themselves both intellectually and emotionally. I think it can lead to a world where people are less susceptible to the trappings of faith and of interpersonal jealousy. It will not solve the world’s problems, but it will help.
But, honestly, I’m not really hopeful that this will happen on a large scale. I can only work to make sure it happens for myself, and to assist others for whom I care. Know yourself; examine your behavior, your reactions to criticism and different opinion, and push yourself beyond your comfort zone sometimes. And yes, internet trolls, this applies to myself as well. I have not claimed to have mastered said request, only to be aware, and comfortable, with my own insecurity.
And, finally, do seize this life, for it is the only one we have. Life is too short to be paralyzed by our fears.
*–I am aware that medication is useful and effective for many people, even if I leave it aside in this analysis.
The fallacy of cosmic purpose December 1, 2010Posted by shaunphilly in religion, atheism, polyamory, culture.
Tags: cosmic conciousness, cosmic purpose, meaning, purpose, sentience
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I was having a conversation the other day with a close friend about purpose. She said that part of what motivated her to do what she does (teach) is to do something that has meaning, but that she might not do it if there was no purpose. She said one of the things that bothers her about astronomy was the fact that it seemed to indicate that the efforts we give here on Earth are largely irrelevant on a cosmic scale. She said that she had, therefore, a faith in a purpose larger than we are; a sort of cosmic purpose.
It is certainly humbling to put ourselves in context, given what we know about the scale of the universe. Moving from where we were a few centuries ago to where we are now, we have gone from the center of a small universe to a tiny part of an immense universe. And that’s surely underestimating it!
Now, theists and other people with ideas about things spiritual tend to believe in some cosmic purpose. But even a few atheists will hold onto such notions from time to time. Perhaps Buddhism could be included into that set. In any case, these theists may not claim to know what this purpose is, but they claim to know or have faith that one exists. And if there is a god or some spiritual existence that exists in the universe, then the likelihood of this being true becomes much higher, although not necessarily the case
But, of course, I’m not one of those people that believes such things. I believe that the vast majority of the universe if non-sentient, unconscious, and inert. Stars, dust, galaxies, nebula, etc. There may be other life elsewhere (in fact, it would seem improbable if there weren’t, although we have no evidence of such life), but even if there is life it is likely an infinitesimal percentage of the universe.
It is life, sentient life specifically, for which purpose has relevance. Purpose is a thing that only applies to things that are capable of abstraction, and therefore things which are conscious. Purpose is not relevant as an attribute for things which have not sentience. It would be like talking about the effect of the strong nuclear force between pillows; it’s simply a fallacy of scale, if you would. Talking about purpose on a cosmic scale simply makes no sense.
In addition, it may actually turn out to be a category error; parts of the universe have the property of consciousness, thus the potential of the concept of purpose, but this does not apply to the whole. One cannot simply project the purpose they have at their scale (that of culture, and personal relationships), and apply it to the universe any more than they can project their concept of god onto the universe. What exists in our heads as concepts and bodies as feelings do not necessarily exist beyond us; there may be no referent to your concept of cosmic purpose or gods.
Now, one might try and argue for a kind of cosmic consciousness, or perhaps a god of some sort, but this merely becomes a distraction from the point. I’m taking for granted the absence of such things, because I am an atheist after all. I see no evidence for any cosmic awareness, sentience, nor do I know of any mechanism which could be demonstrated to be the infrastructure of such a cosmic consciousness. You see, one would have to propose some other way of creating consciousness (and therefore things like meaning and purpose) without physical brains or computers of some other kind. That, or they would have to argue something like a relationship between galaxies (perhaps based on gravity or something) that acts somewhat like a neural net, making the universe a sort of brain. A wild suggestion, indeed, and one that I doubt could stand up to the most basic of scrutiny.
What we know is that we are somewhat intelligent primates on a small rock orbiting an average star. We have purposes. My purpose here, in writing this post, is to try and make a point to you that if you think about a cosmic purpose, you may have to re-think your hypothesis. (Whether I succeed or not is hardly to the point to whether this is my purpose). But the purposes we feel, whether consciously created by ourselves or not, can only stretch so far. I will tentatively argue that the limit of this purpose-stretching is the limits of culture. The edge of our cultural influences seem to be the furthest we can stretch our purposes, it seems, because it is the limit to where our intentions can reach.
Now, perhaps there will be a day when our culture has more vast influence. And perhaps, in the distant future, we may discover a way to influence the cosmos itself. Then, and only then. can we start talking seriously about a cosmic purpose. For the moment, the concept of cosmic purpose seems to have no real referent in the world outside our minds.
And reality is that which continues to exist when we stop believing in it.