Quiet and Afraid January 13, 2013Posted by shaunphilly in Culture and Society.
Tags: fear, insecurity, Mental Health
1 comment so far
Depending on my mood, I can be rather outgoing and gregarious, or I can be quite and shy. Especially around people I do not know well, I tend towards shyness. But I don’t want to be shy. I want to be warm, engaging, and have interesting and revealing discussions with people. But I rarely do.
I think about why this is the case quite often. And, depending on my emotional state, my feelings vary. That is, my rationalizations for my fear of speaking up shift with my mood. So, today I want to compose two related, but emotionally distinct, reactions to being shy while not wanting to be shy. I don’t know if any of this will resonate with anyone else, but perhaps it will. These are the kinds of thoughts I have while battling within myself whether to contribute to conversations, especially if they relate to religion, relationships, etc, in mixed company.
Narrative 1: You will hate me.
I overheard something you just said, and I think that the worldview you seem to come from is misguided, and if I told you what I thought you would find me distasteful and you would rather not talk with me (most likely). If I talked with you about the topic you are currently engaged in conversation about, the dialog would become awkward and you would wish I would have not said anything. Thus, I should remain quiet because otherwise you would hate me, and I would just be wasting my time bringing up my views on your topic of conversation.
This is often followed with a false feeling of superiority; I feel somehow better, more evolved, and I pity those around me. This feeling is often then followed by the sensation that such thoughts and feelings are a defense mechanism, because I’m afraid that my own worldview is misguided and inferior. This sometimes leads to the second, but intimately related, narrative.
Narrative 2: I hate me
Man, I really should stay quiet. These people might be wrong, but my thoughts are just fueled by anger (fear) and I would be better not making an ass out of myself. It really does not matter how much I have thought this through or how certain I feel right now, because all of that confidence is an illusion. My ideas are not interesting, my point of view not insightful, and my false pity for them is not warranted. I wonder if they have these kinds of thoughts too. I wonder ow strong they doubt themselves….
And this trails off into unrelated or merely tangential thoughts about all sorts of things.
But then, usually later (like right now) I think about the fact that I perceive a sort of mainstream set of cultural expectations and views which I often think I can see through, and then these sets of insecurities play out at a meta-level. I think things like:
1) Is there actually a set of cultural narratives which I understand and see through (even if only partially)?
2) Can most people really not see it, or do they see it and either don’t care or understand it better than I do?
3) If those narratives do exist, and I can see them better than some people, is it something which I can explain to those people or do they have to either discover themselves or be perpetually blind to it?
The basic fear that informs my silence, at least as it is rationalized, is whether I am actually seeing something which is real, or whether I’m perceiving a delusion. Do I understand something about human behavior which is real and invisible to most people, or am I creating that narrative to explain the fundamental fear which is the real reason I remain so quiet?
The thought that seems most awful, thus I suspect it is at least partially true, is that the narrative I perceive is real, but I’m just afraid. It’s not that I’m really concerned with annoying people or being seen as idiotic (although those feelings seem real enough), it’s that I’m just afraid. Not afraid of anything in particular, mind you. Just afraid.
And then I have to explain why I’m afraid, which doesn’t help it go away.
It is a perpetual and strangely comfortable sensation, fear. I am almost afraid to not be impeded by it. I’m not sure what I would be like if that fear disappeared.
To those that read is blog, I may not seem afraid to speak my mind. But that is only when the first narrative, above, dominates. All too often the second narrative dominates, and I am left quiet and unsure of myself.
That’s enough honesty for right now. So now I commit my fears to the internet, were they shall never be forgotten. Great…now I cannot pretend they don’t exist….
Is doubt opposed to faith? October 20, 2011Posted by shaunphilly in Religion, Skepticism and atheism.
Tags: doubt, faith, fear
1 comment so far
Yesterday I wrote up some comments about doubt and faith. I am quite happy with it as it stands, but a question was emailed to me from an acquaintance that led me to wonder if I had not been sufficiently clear about one thing, so I wanted to publicly clarify a related question.
The comment emailed to me was this:
Doubt is not the opposite of faith – fear is the
opposite of faith
It was followed by a question about whether there is a difference between religious faith and the belief in things that you simply don’t know for sure or don’t have evidence for (yet, due to lack of sufficient information, etc).
I responded thus (edited to exclude unnecessary specific information):
I have heard that comment about faith, and I don’t buy it. I think that the fact that you don’t know [some specific fact] and faith in supernatural things, or at least things for which there is no evidence, are very different questions.
I make a distinction between a reasonable expectation and faith. Based upon your limited experience with me, your understanding of human behavior, etc you can assign some rough probability to my potential actions. You have empirical information upon which to make a guess, even if your certainty about it is shaky. But if you have a belief in a thing that you truly cannot prove, or at least that you do not have evidence to support or rational reason to accept, that is a qualitatively different question epistemologically.
Also, I would be cautious in using the word “prove” or “proof.” In questions of empiricism, such as science, we don’t ever prove things. We gather information, create a hypothesis to explain the information we have, and if that hypothesis stands up to scrutiny then we call it a “theory” which is further tested and stands or falls upon that further testing. But we cannot deductively prove such things because that is only applicable to purely logical/mathematical questions; things that only exist in the abstract. Questions such as what will happen in the real world are not subject to formal logic, and so cannot be proved. There is always room for doubt, even if it is very small.
So, to accept something like “there is a god” or “a soul exists” despite the lack of supporting empirical evidence is faith because faith is the belief in something despite the lack of evidence (or in the face of conflicting evidence). To believe something that has not yet been given support (in this case because it is a proposition about the future) is a probabilistic process; you can assign probabilities based upon experience with similar situations. But since we have no evidence which supports certain types of claims (like a soul, for example), we cannot assign any probabilities because we have no supporting data to work with. A probability assigned in such a situation would be purely fictional and arbitrary.
In short, they are not the same thing.
Fear is not the opposite of faith because it is possible to be in a position of believing something that you have no evidence for because of fear or at least while experiencing fear. Not that it must be the case, but that it is not logically incoherent. Therefore, they cannot be logically opposed. While doubt (the state of recognizing uncertainty about some question) is not the opposite of faith, is not easily consistent with it. My claim is not that doubt and faith are always incompatible or opposed, only that faith often does not long survive in the presence of doubt.
To truly doubt something means that the belief becomes mitigated. To be a skeptic (which includes doubt but is more than that) is the opposite of faith. Skeptics only believe a thing based upon evidence or reason. I am a skeptic first, and that leads necessarily to atheism and the lack of belief in many other spiritual or religious things (because of the lack of supporting evidence). Until supporting evidence is presented, this is the only rational conclusion for a skeptic. Someone who does not care about evidence to support their belief is not concerned with rational conclusions, so asking what would be rational in that case would be irrelevant.
I care what is true, and want to have as many true beliefs as possible. As a reuslt of this, I doubt things for which there is spurious or no evidence (often to the point of lacking belief in them). I still may believe untrue things, and am open to being shown that this is the case. I have not found this attitude to be true for many religious or spiritual people, although there are obviously many other exceptions to this observation.
I hope that clarifies my views on this.
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.
Growth: the result of challenged insecurities and fears February 18, 2009Posted by shaunphilly in religion, atheism, polyamory, culture.
Tags: challenge, criticism, fear, growth, insecurity, maturity, respect
The longer we go in not challenging ourselves and others, the longer we will continue to live in a world that will crawling towards progress.
We are weak, insecure, fearful, and habitual people. I speak primarily of Americans, because that’s the culture I live in, but I think it is true everywhere to some extent. We are afraid of challenging the mythological assumptions of the world around us. Most believe that faith is good, monogamy is the default, and that success is more important than integrity. We believe these things because the structure of the culture that dominates the world is populated by people that were taught these things and perpetuate these things. Thus, in some perverted sense, they are practically true because they are tradition.
But what is the basis for these beliefs? How many times have I heard that to not believe in something, to simply believe that the world in blind processes without the faith in a god, some paradise, or at least some ultimate meaning, then life is not worth living. Fucking bullshit.
People believe such things because they have never challenged themselves to actually think about this seriously. People are emotionally attached to their beliefs, and so their is a kind of pain when some fact, idea, etc comes to mind that contradicts their worldview. More common is the cognitive dissonance that arises in people who accept contradictory ideas.
Then there are the insecure, lazy, and ignorant hypocrites of the world;
Sunday Christians (those that really are only god-fearing at church, and otherwise don’t give a rats ass except when they meet an atheist). You have never really challenged yourself to figure out what you might really believe if you looked at the claims of your religion. You rely on the support group of the others around you (many of which are using you for the same thing), and have probably never even read your holy book.
Monogamous couples who cheat. You know very well that you want more people in your life sexually, and most even still love their spouses. Yet when you are asked what is wrong with polyamory you say it’s wrong, unnatural, or “not for me.” When you say it’s not for you, you mean its not for your partner, or that you don’t have the guts to open yourself up to the jealousy and insecurity that come with thinking about sharing yourself and your loved ones. Yes, there are some people who just make poor choices and really aren’t into being poly, but I think that a lot more of you out there are just scared, insecure, and fearful of the concept of you not being enough for someone else.
The worst part is that we don’t talk about these things. Religion and politics. Ok, sex too, at least insofar as challenging the fantasy of the soul-mate or the “one for me” mythology; the things that we are not supposed to talk about. Bullshit. The only reason that is true is because when we do, we expose the insecurities and fears of those that refuse to challenge themselves. We tell ourselves that we do it out of respect, but respect for what; Insecurity and fear?
Stop allowing your fears, as well as the fears of those around you, from preventing these discussions. Challenging the worldviews of people we disagree with (hopefully after honestly considering your own position), is how we can help our culture grow out of this insecure and fear-ridden infancy.
Grow up, and help the world around you grow up.