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Surreal June 14, 2019

Posted by shaunphilly in Personal, Polyamory.
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A week ago, I was in pain. I still am.

A week ago, I embarked on a new path with a person who I have respected and looked up to for many years, and whom I am beginning to love in a new way.

These things are related. Confused? Yeah, me too.

I’m not monogamous. No shit. But being actively polyamorous–or a relationship anarchist or whatever I am–is different from merely not being monogamous. Over the last several years of my life, I’ve dated women who were not nonmonogamous, but were willing to give it a shot. In some cases, it worked out at least for a while. In others, it flamed out spectacularly. Most recently, I lost a person who was very special to me because I made the decision to invite a polyamorous person with whom I’ve had a growing relationship and flirtation to spend the weekend with me, despite the fact that the first relationship was already in jeopardy.

And, you might say that such a decision was not wise. And you are right; it wasn’t wise, and it cost me that relationship. And when I made the decision, it was a last minute, need to decide this now situation. And I hadn’t slept the night before. Excuses? Explanations? Rationalizations? Yes.

And, didn’t I know, deep down, that that would be the result? I mean, if I had really thought about it? I mean, if I had the time to think about it, maybe. Hadn’t I learned that the learning curve for previously monogamous partners is too steep to handle real life, in your face, not owning your partner nor their time?

I understand, from the point of view of the traditional set of relationship rules and expectations, that what I did was too much for her to handle. More than a few people out there would read this and be like “what a dick!” And, from their point of view, it was dickish. I feel a little like a dick, honestly. It’s hard to unlearn those cultural rules.

I understand that accepting that your lover has other lovers is a thing most people can sort of understand; we all have those carnal desires, and deciding to be ok with the people you love actually pursuing those desires, so long as you are open about it, is reachable for a lot of people. It sounds hard, but many people get it and can possibly give it a try. I understand that if most people can keep those things at a distance, it can be fine.

But my mind doesn’t live in the world of traditional relationship expectations and rules.

I understand that from the point of view of polyamorous theory from which I center myself, what I did was a little selfish and sudden, but it was a decision I should be able to make without ending a relationship in doing so. I also understand that theory and real world feelings and expectations do not often mesh. I understand that in doing so, I took a risk which I didn’t need to take. But I also knew that doing so would only be kicking the can down the road, rather than dealing with it now.

And it also meant putting off another thing I’ve wanted for some time, and so when life handed me an opportunity I took it. I don’t believe in gods nor fate, but I know that life is short and truly amazing opportunities do not come around often. If you don’t grab a hold of those rare opportunities, then you may miss them forever.

And now, I have to live with the consequences. One woman I care very deeply for, and now miss, is mad, hurt, and she’s probably gone from my life. I’m sad, and I miss her.

And yet….

And then something amazing happened.

And I don’t think I’m able, even several days removed, to comprehend what has changed, and how significant it could be.

And I feel guilty for also feeling good about what I gained in making that selfish decision. I feel guilty for taking a chance which paid off fantastically (for me). I feel bad that my heart is simultaneously aching from loss and from the pangs of a new love which has been years in the making. It’s too much.

And yet I know it was the right decision to make. And I would make it again, even if I might have handled some of the details differently.

I don’t want to go on, and the truth is I cannot anyway. The gist is I have started a new relationship with a woman who is not new to polyamory. In fact, she is one of the people who, over the years, has been an inspiration to me as well as a person whose wisdom and experience within the community has given me perspective on my own views about the nature of relationships, love, and sex.

And I’m scared. Terrified, in fact. Because new relationships are always a combination of scary and amazing, but also because she’s someone I esteem so much, in terms of her knowledge and experience, that I’m afraid I’m not good enough. Because that never goes away. Not fully.

I don’t have any philosophical point to make here. I don’t have any great lesson or insight here, because I know I’m in the middle of the storm and I’m too emotional and cluttered to make any sense of it all right now. I lost someone I really love because I was selfish, and then I spent a weekend with a woman who was everything I thought she was and more.

And it’s all been surreal.

Perhaps I’ll have more to say when I’m not in the eye of the storm, and can reflect on it with more clarity. For now, I will need to weather the double storm of loss and gain, simultaneously. I think it’s a set of feelings that many polyamorous people have experienced over the years.

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Where am I? May 31, 2019

Posted by shaunphilly in Personal.
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Since I got back from Europe 5 days ago, I’ve been waking up in the middle of the night, not sure where I am. It’s a quite disturbing experience, and rather than fading with each successive night, I think last night was the most intense version of the phenomenon. Here’s a brief description of what’s been happening each night in the last few nights.

I wake up, and sit up in a mostly dark room, and the surroundings look foreign and unfamiliar. I have the sensation of looking at the doorways, wall-hangings, and even the ceiling fan and having the sensation of all of it indicating that I’ve traveled to a very different place than I’m used to. And for maybe the next 30 seconds, I’m trying to remember where I am, and I just want to be home. And I’m very clearly NOT home.

Did I travel to England?

Is a thought I had one night. Another I was almost certain that I had gone back to Bruges. The only thing I was certain of, in those moments before I come back to reality, is that I’m definitely still traveling, and I’m exhausted and just want to be home, finally.

I was away from home for 2 weeks. I visited 7 cities.  I landed in Brussels, then continued onto Ghent, Bruges, Antwerp, Rotterdam, Den Haag (because I cannot think of it as “The Hague” anymore), and finally Amsterdam. I was changing cities every other day or so, and so I woke up, both in the middle of the night and on each morning (excepting the 2 nights I closed out some clubs until dawn), in an unfamiliar place. And, now that I’m home, that sensation has seemed to stick to my brain, despite the fact that Kate was next to me 2 of the last 5 nights.

What’s most interesting about the experience is that moment where my brain finally understands–and accepts–that I’m back home. I’m back in the US, I’m in West Philly, and this is my apartment. What’s interesting about it is that my mind seems to fight this realization, and there is a moment of cognitive pain, not unlike cognitive dissonance, where my brain is forced to accept that this is my stuff.

Even stranger is the experience of almost watching the surrounding of my bedroom almost visually transform into my stuff. It’s not that they literally change shape, but the realization of where I am shifts the emotional content of the items in a way that is, in some cognitive sense, indistinguishable from actually changing their shape and color. Perception and recognition are embedded in a foundation of emotion, and if you don’t believe, deep down, that this is home, then it won’t look like home.

And this makes me even more aware of how much belief and emotion effects perception and cognition.

And it makes me even less certain that we 1) choose our beliefs and 2) can change our worldviews simply with rationality and logic. Because in that moment, right before I accept where I am, the room is foreign. I am NOT at home. I’m in some weird AirBNB or hotel somewhere and I’m far away from home and I’m a little scared. And my mind fights the evidence to the contrary, even when it is as plain and overt as evidence can possibly be.

Imagine how hard it would be if I refused to, or could not, look at the evidence? How could I change my mind?

[insert argument about how people refuse to be skeptical and seek out alternative information, and how this is bad and we’re all screwed. Feel self-righteous]

There is obviously some residual emotion left over from my trip. Because while I enjoy traveling, and am glad I went to see all those places, I had moments while away of painfully missing home, and having the sensation, especially at night, of feeling lost, alone, and very much wanting to be in my own bed.

It’s somewhat ironic that when I actually returned to that bed, I then have the experience of that bed feeling not like home at all.

I’m tempted to try and concoct or fabricate some deeper meaning to all of this, as if there were some profound personal revelation of feeling lost everywhere, making my home equally wherever I am, but I think that’s evidence of a brain trying to find pattern and intent where there is none. I think it’s simpler and less interesting than that. I think that our brains try to predict the world, and for 2 weeks it got used to predicting being far from home, and it’s going to take a few more nights for it to settle back into the routine of being home.

And yet the sensation of a deeper, existential, and philosophical lesson is fighting to remain in the spotlight of consciousness, and I more deeply understand the workings of the spiritual or religious sense of mind; it’s a sensation that insists upon itself, in the face of evidence.  Despite the fact that its more like a waking dream-state where the monsters and fantasies of the sleeping mind slip into reality which cannot permit them, we still won’t look directly at reality and see it for what it is.

The vacation is over, I am home, and I have to go to work in a few hours.

To sleep, perchance to dream

Open thy eyes and let escape a dreamscape.

To wake, entranced to seem

Open thy mind and the world will let itself

 

 

 

 

 

 

Total Eclipse of the Heart August 21, 2018

Posted by shaunphilly in Personal, relationships.
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A year ago, today, I was in South Carolina to see the solar eclipse in its totality. I had travelled down there with a woman, Marilyn, I had decided was someone I wanted to spend my life with, and with whom I’d also travel, later that year, to Europe. The difference between then and today is as different as the illusion of daylight of one moment, and the eclipsing, surreal and beautiful, darkness which follows.

What happened?

If I were to accept the idea of karma, at least as it is poorly understood in our Western appropriation of the concept, I would think that I was experiencing the backlash of my own mistakes, hurled at me by a universe who needed me to learn how my own poor behavior made others feel. I would likely conclude that I deserved it, had it coming, and that perhaps the score was evened out a little bit.

But I don’t believe in any cosmic force of moral tit-for-tat, so I’m left to explore the lessons I should draw from this failed relationship without appeals to any supernatural or spiritual causation. And yet, I am left with the notion that my various mistakes in some of my previous relationships were more significant than I previous understood. Bottom line, I have been a dick on more than one occasion to people I cared about, and I have felt this more keenly in the last few months than I have previously.

So, in a sense, karma, if only metaphorically. And as I exit the mourning period of this loss, I am feeling philosophical, thoughtful, and regretful.

But that isn’t what this post is about; that’s merely the foundation upon which I wish to explore a set of ideas which I have been toiling over for quite a while, but which have taken on a new set of facets in recent months. Today, I want to explore self-righteousness, especially as it pertains to how we view people who have hurt us.

 

So, here’s a narrative for you to digest;

My ex, Marilyn, was abusive. She was sometimes extremely loving and affectionate, and often a lot of fun, but there was a pattern, a swinging pendulum, of behavior which left me feeling loved, happy, and hopeful some of the time, while other times I felt afraid to speak, felt the need to leave (which I did, once or twice), and the relationship was rocky, off and on, and in the end it was extremely painful when it ended.

Others (though not all) around me saw it. They tried to get me to see it, but I dismissed their warnings, and as a result 2 other relationships faltered. And, in the end, when it was all over, I was left to sort it out alone. And, having been mistreated, yelled at, lied to, and periodically pushed away and pulled back, it was very easy to have a sense of being the victim. She was an asshole, and I dodged a bullet I would say. I could walk away feeling good about myself and move on to someone better, knowing that I’m in the right, this time. In other words, my friends and those who heard my side of the story would have supported me in feeling self-righteous.

And they would have been wrong in doing so, because self-righteousness is nothing but a function of a combination of myopia and tribalism–which is itself a from of collective myopia.

The above narrative, which I held onto for too long, was nonsense because even if it is the case that she was abusive (and I believe she was), it is also the case that she was in pain, afraid, and lashed out due to trauma from things that I could never hope to understand nor do anything about. And I, knowing this, kept coming back to her knowing that this pain was causing her to keep me at a distance. It didn’t matter that I was not the one who hurt her. It doesn’t matter that she was the one who kept reaching out to me when she needed to take her time to deal with those things, probably alone, because I knew that she needed that time and I kept coming back because I loved her and wanted to be with her. I was being selfish, irrational, and I made poor decisions (hey, it’s what I do…).

The failure of the relationship was both of our faults. We’re both hurt by each other, we both made mistakes, and the fact that one of us might share the greater share of the blame this time is not especially relevant or interesting unless me and my friends (or she and hers) are trying to rationalize who should feel like they are in the right.

And yet, for a while, I did feel self-righteous, and my friends agreed that I was the one who was the victim, in this case. Of course they do, because that’s what friends are for, right? Perhaps, but I want to set a higher standard in my life, and I want to actually figure out what’s true, and not what’s merely comforting to me and my tribes. And the truth is that she has reason to be angry and hurt with me and I have reason to feel hurt. The calculation of relative blame is sort of pointless, and is too prone to subjective narratives, myopia, tribalism, and re-writing memories to be worth-while.

I’m fairly sure that something similar is happening on her end, with her friends. I’m sure I’m the awful ex who she’s glad she got rid of. It’s a useful narrative which we all use to be able to vent, feel good about ourselves, and move on to something better. But much of this process is a lie, and even while I’m doing it, I know it’s a lie. But I do it anyway, and in time the lie becomes the truth, unless we are willing to be more honest. But, as I like to say, we don’t get to have our own truth; there is only the truth, and the convenient lies we tell ourselves to make us feel better (whether it’s gods, our own self-righteousness, etc).

This pattern of narrative-creation is true on a larger scale, as well. Every group I have belonged to, when rifts emerge, becomes tribalistic and becomes completely unable to see the mistakes and shortcomings of the people they ally with. I’ll bet that someone you love and respect, in whatever community to which you belong, is right now being unfairly awful to someone else (perhaps someone you dislike), because they are on the wrong side of some rift or disagreement. I’ll bet you aren’t especially bothered by that. I’ll bet sometimes you cheer them on, and like their scathing comments. For a while, most of the leadership of the local Poly facebook group was doing precisely this, and they had all kinds of cheerleaders. It was ugly, and it made me feel disgusted and unwelcome.

This is the world we live in now, and it’s getting worse.

How about politics? Many people who voted for Hillary Clinton, especially in a state like PA who ended up being close in 2016, thinks all the Jill Stein voters are idiots and awful. Many of the Jill Stein voters think the same of those who they often call “Hill-bots.” Many have not-so-nice things to say about “Bernie-bros,” and I’ve had some pretty awful things to say about “Trumpists,” myself. Trump voters hate the elitist liberals, As do many anarchists and Communists, who similarly tend to hate Clinton, and it goes on and on.

This is not to say that people don’t often have good reason to feel the ways they do, in these cases. In fact, that is precisely the point; they all do have reasons to feel the way they do. Because in every group, every walk of life, every political party, every clique, etc there are people. I was tempted to say that there are assholes, but the fact is that this is all too normal to frame it that way.

I’m guilty of this, you are guilty of this, your best friend is guilty of this, and your current partner(s) are all guilty of this. We all do it. The problem is that we keep excusing it. My friends excuse me blaming Marilyn for her bad behavior, and when I was calling her an asshole, they patted me on the back, and were like “yup, she was.” She probably vented to some of her friends after we broke up, and they said the same about me. Who’s right? Who cares.

I think that we need to take a hard look at ourselves, and make a distinction between trying to honestly evaluate what happened, what is our responsibility, and what we need to learn and making this about a judgment of a person’s moral and social worth. Also, we need to try to look past the lens and filter of our tribes (friend groups), and try to see why those people over there (the other people) are giving emotional support for the people who hurt us, with whom we disagree, or who actually did something easily identifiable as wrong.

It’s all to easy to dismiss people, and I’m going to continue to try to resist this impulse for the people who have hurt me. Instead, I’m going to aim for the truth, at least as best as I can see it. Marilyn was a lovely human being who was hurting, but I was not as good a partner as I could have been in order to be who she needed while she was hurting. Her patterns of behavior were, at times, abusive. But so were mine in more times than I would prefer to admit. A year ago today, we were happy, in love, and we spent a lovely day together. But I erred in the latter stages of the relationship, and because of that she has decided she doesn’t want to hear from me anymore. If we were to have an omniscient judge to declare who was more right or more at fault, who would it be? I don’t care.

Well, more precisely, I do care, but it is this caring which is the source of the problem. I need to be less yanked around by the fears, hurt, and anger at the foundation of this caring who is right, and more concerned with the truth of what I can do, now, to do better next time.

Once I fully heal from the pain that this loss has cost me, I have to take the lessons that are real, and not the ones which make me feel, and look, better.

 

 

The Year of Traveling November 30, 2017

Posted by shaunphilly in Personal.
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This has not been a year I’ve written very much, and yet a lot has happened. 2017 was the year of traveling, for me. Today, I’m not going to get philosophical or anything. Today I’m just going to talk about the places I’ve seen this year, and share some pictures.

I wrote about going on the road earlier this year. This Spring, I found out that the job I had been working at was downsizing, and the office was being shut down. I was the Sr. technician on site, and I had only been there about a year, and suddenly I found myself looking at having to find new work. So, with an upcoming severance package, I decided to take a road trip. And so I did that.

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Atop Green Mountain, Colorado. Looking down on Black Canyon

I hit the road at the end of June, and had no specific plan. I had camping gear in the back, food in a cooler, and my Prius on a blacktop of potential. I went to lots of places, but I spent the most time in Colorado. The photo above was from a very long clime in Gunnison National Park, in the Western part of Colorado where I spent most of my time. It’s about 8500 feet above sea level, and also quite high from the floor of the canyon in the distance. I sat up there for a long time, and just watched and felt genuinely glad to be alive.

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Me, in Salt Lake City, unshaken after camping in Colorado

It was astoundingly beautiful, and only one of many places I saw on my road trip. I saw Cleveland and Vermilion Ohio, Detroit, Chicago, St. Louis, camped in Oklahoma, drove through Kansas (where I saw a giant replica of a Van Gogh painting, standing around 50 feet tall), Couchsurfed and camped in Colorado, had a drink in Salt Lake City (where I also saw the Temple Square), stayed in San Fransisco and Portland Oregon, and came back through Idaho (Boise was great, and has a lot of Basque influence on food and culture there), Omaha (Nebraska is beautiful), Kansas City (where I may or may not have met a nice girl on Tinder where I found a place to crash for the night), then back home. I saw many more places in between, and am so very glad that I saw them all, and feel like I have a better feel for the immense size and beauty of this country. Colorado was my favorite, by far, but my friend (who I used to babysit when he was a child) introduced my to his wonderful hippie community in Portland, where I helped repaint some street murals and played guitar and drank beer until late into the night with his friends.

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Marilyn with some friends from grad school, in North Carolina, where we stopped along the way to SC.

Then, after I returned home, there was the eclipse. I took my partner, Marilyn, down to South Carolina with me, and we camped in the path of totality, and it was astounding. The camp ground was so overbooked, that they started renting out parts of the lawn and grassy areas next to the road to people to set up camp. And so with a fire pit, lots of beer, some people from Georgia and South Carolina as neighbors, we partied for 2 nights and watched an eclipse which was much more amazing than I thought it would be.

None of the pictures I took did it justice, unfortunately. But (as you can see) I did take pictures this summer, and the one below is my favorite of all of them.

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Copan Lake, Oklahoma.

This was next to Copan Lake, in Oklahoma, near a little town called Dewey, where I had a wonderful lunch and talked with some lovely locals who owned a cafe/bar/theater where they hosted some interesting shows and movies. I have many pictures of the sunset from that evening, many which I thought of sharing here, but this tree, on the way back to my campsite, caught my eye and it ended up being my favorite picture from the summer.

 

Home. Moving. Planes.

I was gone from Philadelphia for three weeks, and was glad to be home. Then, I moved to to my new apartment on Baltimore Ave. Living alone, for the first time ever, with my birds, my guitars, and my many books. But I would have to wait to unpack, because my traveling was not yet over. Having moved my stuff in, and gotten a few things unpacked, it was time to get on a plane.

I thought I had been traveled out after my road trip and seeing the eclipse in South Carolina, but then Marilyn had a business conference she had to go to, and invited me to meet her in Vienna. I decided to fly to Prague, spend a few days there while she was at her conference, and spend the weekend with her in Vienna. All I can say is that I absolutely loved Prague, and would recommend it to anyone who likes old European cities with lots of history, and also likes beer and amazing food. I love me some Goulash!

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Prague, from a lookout tower west of the old town

I walked for hours in Prague and Vienna. In Prague, I discovered a Belgian beer bar that, when I arrived, was having an anniversary party with of the of the Belgian brewers (from Gulden Draak, specifically) there helping celebrate the bar’s anniversary. I found some Americans in a place called the Prague Beer Museum (a pub, really), where we attempted to talk with two guys from Ukraine via Google translate, because they only spoke Russian. I had a drink at Hemmingway’s while in Prague, on the recommendation of someone who I thanked immediately, because the cocktails were great. There was also a Sex machine museum, which was fascinating. I have many pictures I want to share from there, but here’s my favorite:

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Yes, that’s one sexy bear.

In Vienna, Marilyn and I ate Schnitzel and spätzle while drinking very good beer while I tried to remember how to speak German. We saw the Jewish museum, which had exhibits about the history of Jewish culture, persecution, and influence on the local business culture of Vienna over the many centuries. The natural history museum there is astoundingly large, and makes the Smithsonian look tiny in comparison. We could not see all of it, in the few hours we were there. I played a little Ingress in both towns, because uniques are a thing, but I was much more interested in looking around, than down at a phone.

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Marilyn gets her first corset at the Ren Faire

Back here, in Philadelphia, there was protesting (because our president, and the awful people who are in control around him are doing awful things), seeing friends (my friend bought a big house in South Philly, near the Italian market), bike rides (they’re just great), and the Renaissance Faire (kilt’s are necessary, of course) among many other things. There are new and ongoing relationships with the lovely people in my life, and there are, of course, birds chirping contentedly behind me as I write at my desk.

Most importantly this year, there is a sense of all the shit of a few years ago being healed, even if not forgotten. The last year or so has been full of nights without nightmares, constant emotional turmoil, or even thinking about those things the vast majority of the time.

I am, without a doubt, happier, healthier, and more confident in myself, life, and my personal future than I have even been at any point in my life. Trauma and pain have a way of healing and teaching, and I am not only a better person for having lived through it and also having learned from my own mistakes, but I have a greater perspective from which to see the world around me clearer.

Life, in short, is good. And I’m happy. How was your 2017, so far?

Skepticism v. Instincts, round 12 August 4, 2016

Posted by shaunphilly in Personal, Polyamory, relationships, Skepticism and atheism.
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So, this blog is about skepticism, primarily. I have said, many times, that skepticism is my primary philosophical orientation, and that many of my beliefs and lifestyle choices emanate, ultimately, from a natural sense of skepticism–of seeking the truth over comfort, with the help of logic, empiricism, etc.

But what about instinct? What about deep feeling and the uncertain world of emotion which drives us? What do we do with that? What do we do when, not having all the evidence available, we have a deeply emotional feeling about something? How much should we listen to this?

Here’s a puzzle. Let’s say that my instincts have made me feel very strongly, about certain situations and/or people, which I have ignored because I thought it fair to not merely allow my emotions to sway me when more objective means of judgment could give me a better conclusion. It sounds rational, right? My mere feelings are not sufficient, and I should, as a good skeptic, demand some more evidence before allowing myself to make a decision or form a conclusion. So, I table the feeling and try to wait for more evidence.

This tendency has ended up scarring me, more than a couple of times.

Upon first meeting a former metamour, whom I have written about before, all my alarms rang in my head that this person was problematic. But I ignored these alarms, these instinctual judgments made at a level not quite conscious, and tried to be open-minded and skeptical. I saw that people around him liked him, he seemed popular and well-liked. So I ignored those instincts and allowed myself to be swayed by the patience required to get all the data. That didn’t end well.

Before I moved to Atlanta with an ex (who ended up abandoning me there) my instincts told me that making the move would be a positive experience, and that those warning me against it were just being overly skeptical. I was feeling optimistic and adventurous with someone I loved, respected, and trusted. That didn’t end well, either.

In other words, my instincts have been wrong and right, and so I have “learned,” repeatedly, to ignore them because they are unreliable as a means towards truth.

Like a good skeptic.

And yet….

And yet there are times when those instincts are really strong, and I have to wonder whether this is one of the times I need to listen to them or, you know, not this time. Because our brains, while prone to error, also have tools which can alert us to subtle signals which give us information about the world. Sometimes, our instincts are right, and when we have been hurt, we tend to be sensitive to the signals that we have run into before. So, sometimes a gut feelings is worth paying significant attention to.

But where we draw the line between following our gut and holding out for more information is related to how much we trust ourselves. And if one is insecure and has self-trust issues (hey there, nice to meet you!), one might end up erring on the side of ignoring those instincts where we should have given them more consideration.

I think that I can say, with a high degree of certainty, that most of the times I have a really strong feeling about something, I’m at least partially right. And, yet, I more often than not ignore my gut feelings to my detriment, because I feel like giving a person or situation a chance, even though it does not feel right.

In short, I do not trust my own feelings and judgment because I want to be appropriately skeptical. That is, I recognize that my instincts and feelings can be wrong. So, the question is whether this is a form of self gaslighting, or is this healthy behavior?

To what degree is questioning how I feel, at a gut-level, a healthy method of self-reflection and introspection? There are many who would probably argue that doing it for other people is inappropriate, manipulative, and possibly abusive, insofar as doing so is probably gaslighting; questioning someone else’s feelings and perceptions about something is a form of questioning their ability to perceive the world correctly, after all. But I’m not sure where the line is, especially if we are doing it introspectively.

I believe that it is not only possible, but common, for people to have incorrect perceptions, feelings, and perspectives about the world around them. I believe that some level of wondering “how much are my fears, biases, or lack of understanding making me not see this situation correctly?”is not only appropriate, but necessary in order to be a rational human being.

But at the same time, there is a point where we need to accept that our feelings are sometimes, even when we cannot skeptically check them out, valuable and often spot on. There are times when we need to get the fuck out if something feels creepy or unsafe. There are times when we need to force ourselves to look deeper at a situation, person, or idea when our initial reaction is defensiveness, fear, or anger. Because we are too prone to selection bias and reacting negatively to ideas which do not fit well within our current boundaries and bubbles. And sometimes the bubble we exist within is a lens through which reality is skewed and warped.

Sometimes, what we think of as strength and standing up for ourselves is, in fact, bias skewing our perception. Sometimes, questioning our perception of reality is the appropriate method. That is, if we care about the truth.I’m just not sure how to tell the difference between when my instincts are right, and when they are a warped perspective, filtered through fear, bias, pain, etc.

Our instincts, or deep feelings, and our personal perspectives are not truths, necessarily, but they can often be good signposts. The concept of something being “true for me” is deeply problematic and philosophically sophomoric. As we build an instinctual defense mechanism within us, we need to make sure that the springs, levers, etc of that mechanism are not made out of bias, fear, and pain. Because those building tools will not build a skeptical shield.

As I watch my defensive mechanism work inside me, I am forced to admit that more parts than I’d like are made out of fear, trauma, and pain. I will not ignore the alarms that this mechanism set off, but I damned well will not let a non-skeptical and automatic mechanism make conclusions nor decisions for me. So when the red flag is thrown up from that lever, I’ll stop and take a look at it, but I will not be reactionary insofar as I allow my past pain and fear to determine my future path.

I'm not 42 yet, but I'm starting to feel this meme coming on...

I’m not 42 yet, but I’m starting to feel this meme coming on…

I have learned many signs of problematic behavior in the last few years, from many people. But I will not allow the people that compelled me to build my defenses define those in front of me, on this path. But at the same time, those in front of me on my path will have to contend with someone who has seen some shit, and sure as hell will not allow you to get away with any of it.

Because I’m sick of people’s shit.

More importantly, I’m sick of my own shit.

Meow!

How do you unlearn? April 3, 2016

Posted by shaunphilly in Personal, relationships.
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Growing up, one of the lessons I learned was that something was not really important unless it was yelled at you.

Related to this, if something is important, you have to yell it. Otherwise, how would the listener know it was important?

Looking back on things, it is clear that people in my life were telling me important things which I should have paid more attention to. But they were not yelling it, so it didn’t contain the emotional import–not sufficient emotional affect–to stand out as a thing to pay specific attention to.

People often tell you what to do, or not to do, if you don’t want to hurt, disappoint, or otherwise do damage to your relationship with them. Most people don’t yell these things. I didn’t know that, until later in life. And I’m still trying to unlearn those early lessons, even today.

 

We all deal with childhood, and family life, with complications and difficulties. Many of the people I have known have had to deal with some amount of annoying, manipulative, or abusive behavior. We all have our baggage. But understanding the baggage of other people, and how that baggage compels problematic behavior, is perhaps one of the most difficult things to navigate.

It’s even harder to learn other people’s baggage is you don’t have a handle on your own, completely.

 

Most of the people out there who I have hurt gave me some form of warning, pleading, or simple conversation to point out what was wrong. The problem was that because I learned that intense, aggressive, and often loud emotional communication was necessary to get one’s attention, I just heard it as conversation without import. It was not that I wasn’t listening, it was that I was trained to listen for something else.

Ever since I realized this (and it’s been quite a while), it has frustrated me more and more that the lesson still is not unlearned.

And so the cycle continues.

I’m sorry.

 

A poem? Meh, whatever…. April 1, 2016

Posted by shaunphilly in Culture and Society, Personal, Religion.
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[cn: sarcasm, wordplay, someone will hate this, and I suppose I’m ok with that. Wait, what’s the syntax of this content note? Is this thing unix? Can I use python? Isn’t all language merely metaphor and lies? Definitely the wrong syntax]

Is the irony of theater that to do it well one need not act?

Occasionally, one stops acting.

Stop acting, please.

All of us
So say we all?

Well (and let me not be impertinent) that would be a nice start, I suppose.

But I gave up hope for that many years ago, because I don’t think being the Borg is really the right historical influence.

Isn’t that weird?

The Borg, for this type of nerd, has a similar influence that “real” history has, because they are both just narratives echoing off the walls. Is that a sociological question, psychological feeling, or philosophical grant money. Wait, I meant field of study. Hmm, why didn’t I want to get a PhD again?

Scilon cylon, Borg, whatever. That was a little heavy with the word play. I’m amused, I apologize if you think I’m being serious.

Also, if I did offend you, then I’m sorry I hurt you, so I invite all comments and will consider them seriously, all of them. OK, when it’s obvious trolling, I’m peace out, but otherwise. Is this more of a rap or a poem? wait, what’s the difference again? Which one has the holodeck? I’m confused, sorry. I was too busy rocking out to Ziggy Stardust, because someone I once loved very much made it important to me once, but I still love it on its own.

Sorry, rambling again. It’s fun watching the show everywhere. The world is a stage, and all that whatnot. Forsooth!

Signed, your friendly neighborhood dudebro.

P.S.   Wait, that wasn’t right. local neighborhood weirdo who writes in the local bar, because he likes to be around people. Dude, syntax again. srsly.

Nevermind, I’ll stop being absurdist. It’s partially escapism, but it’s mostly actually just letting go, unlocking the gates of Hades, metaphorically. Always liked that metaphor. Old one. Still rocks.

Word.

Sacred beliefs; being wrong March 29, 2016

Posted by shaunphilly in Culture and Society, Personal, relationships.
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If you were to look at older posts on this blog, you would see me being critical of how defensive religious people are about their beliefs. In the earlier days of the atheist community, there was a divide between those who were openly critical of people’s faiths and those who wanted to build bridges or who simply didn’t see the point in criticizing or challenging personal beliefs.

Now, after some years, the rifts, arguments, and points of contention have changed, but it strikes me that the same fundamental question is still at hand; what do we do with people’s sacred beliefs?

Of course, this is not a question unique to the atheist community. I’d bet it’s pretty universal across cultures, societies, etc.

So, what about people we don’t like? What about people who have hurt us? What about people we refuse to talk with? I am not very certain of this framing, and I am writing this more with an interest to structure my thoughts than to try and compel a specific argument, but allow me to posit an idea.

As a background for this, allow me to summarize my views on how we rationalize, which I have written about before.

Rationalization:

Not all of our conclusions are truly rationally derived. In fact, I would say that probably a good number of them are not. Through some unseen bias, trauma, idealism, or even dedication to a person or group (groupthink, tribalism, or even loyalty to a loved one), we come to a conclusion that is more based upon emotion than pure rational thinking (a kind of Critique of Pure Reason, as it were), and we then rationalize that emotional decision.

We all do this, a lot. In fact, I notice that it’s much more prevalent the more rational a person thinks they are; it’s often the most logically-minded people who are susceptible to this. (Yes, myself included).

And then we, the rational paragons that we are, defend our emotional conclusions. And we become defensive around the subject of that conclusion. And then those who differ with us become the other, from another tribe, and then we cannot even hear, understand, or possibly even be around those people. We read them unfairly, we credit them with motives which they might not have, and we are unable, and usually unwilling, to hear them.

Friendships, romantic relationships, business partnerships, and all other sorts of human relations are lost through such means, and it often takes years, if it happens at all, to be able to see past the biases which we build when this happens. This is how enemies and estrangements are made, and it’s utterly ridiculous most of the time.

 

Sacred Space

You’ve been hurt. Someone made a decision which had an unwanted result, from your point of view. Maybe you were friends for years, maybe you have only known them for a few months, or maybe they are a family member. Now, aside from the rare person who is actually malicious (and hell, we can almost never be sure that our “enemy” is ever really that person, because it usually feels that way to the harmed), most people who hurt us were not trying to. Their reasons for what they did are probably complicated, they probably regret their actions (at least to some degree), and they are probably not the person that your angry, hurt, and resentful self sees.

And yet I am willing to bet that in the long run that demonized version of them will be the one which you (and your friends who console you) will remember. Because memory is associated with emotion. No matter how good things were, you remember them through the association of that pain.

And so you create a sacred space of belief about that person, what they did, and any contradiction of that narrative are dismissed, like we do with all our beliefs; they survive on the nectar or bias and demonization. I’ve done this, myself. In the period of healing over the least couple of years, I’ve done it to several people. In recent months, I’ve started to doubt my beliefs, with regard to some of these people, and I have begun to question whether the conclusions I reached were true.

In one case, I realized that a specific person who was vilified among the people closest to me was not, in fact, vile at all. I realized that she was someone who was suffering, who made mistakes, and who I loved very much. The details don’t matter here, but suffice it to say that this realization cost me dearly, because I handled it badly.

But the only reason i realized it was because I was able to question the tribalistic groupthink which was forming around this person. I was able, eventually, to see around the biases which others were trying to compel me to accept. And I made the decision which I needed to make, but in the wrong way.

I have always been a person who has been willing to question the most sacred of my personal beliefs. One could frame this as lack of confidence in myself (and that is also partially true), but I believe that it is also a virtue to not be able to look at my personal beliefs as sacred objects not to be questioned. The traditions, childhood dreams, and ideals we carry sometimes blind us to the possibility of transcendent growth. Sometimes ideals are more a hindrance than a boon to personal enlightenment; beware the person of strong conviction, for that conviction is the lens through which they see the world.

 

Being wrong

The result of all this pondering is that I wonder if maybe I have been very wrong about some things. Many things, perhaps.

I have read what some have said about me, and know what others think of me, but despite my flaws (and I certainly have them), I am not the person I see reflected in their thoughts. And if I do not give my view of  others the same revision which I give to my own beliefs, it would be irrational to expect them to do the same. I cannot expect others to see past their biases if I will not see past my own. I have to be willing to be wrong, about everything.

Too many people out there in the various communities in which I have walked are unwilling to hear what some other people have to say, and really hear it. Too much enmity (some of it is actually deserved, but not all of it), too little willingness to reconsider, and too much desire to be right than to be willing to listen. Too much conviction. Too much comfort and certainty about one’s own values and goals, for my taste. Those things are as likely to be cages as virtues.

I’ve lost people I have cared about because I’ve made mistakes, because others have made mistakes, and because (usually) we both made mistakes. We’re human. But an unwillingness to listen, to hear, to drop down the walls between us all is not helping anyone. We all had reasons for the decisions we made, and if we might be willing to look past our feelings a  little bit, perhaps we could see why we might have made the same decision as they did, and perhaps begin to forgive.

Or, you know, we could all just move along feeling self-righteous and  comfortable in whatever tribe we’ve formed. That could be fun too, right?

I’ve been wrong, you’ve been wrong, and we will all be wrong more than we’d like to be. Don’t let the potential for understanding, enlightenment, or intimacy be lost for the sake of your stupid sacred beliefs and conclusions. That’s completely silly.

 

 

The Republic of The Self January 29, 2016

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tripartite

Plato’s tripartite soul/state

One of the first philosophy books I ever read, when I was around 14 or so, was Plato’s Republic. It’s a very well-known and influential book, both in the philosophical world but also in Western culture in general. The basic theme of the book is that there is a discussion, including Socrates and his interlocutors, about the nature of the human “soul”, by use of an analogy of creating a perfect “Republic.”

The concept of the “tripartite soul” was derived, in part, from this book (also the Phaedo). Plato saw us as being made up of logical, spiritual, and desirous parts, all having to work together in a hierarchical fashion in order to achieve harmony and happiness. Analogously, the state, in this case an ideal republic, should be made up of the “philosopher kings” (reason/logic), the soldiers (will/spirit), and the citizens (appetite/desire).

Plato’s psychological theory is, of course, unscientific and not used by psychology (and his political one as well, given his inability to build a successful state himself) but nonetheless this idea is embedded in much of Western thinking (for good or ill, probably more the latter). How often do we think of ourselves as having to use reason or logic to reign in our will or desires? Don’t we still see, in some ways, our leaders as a means to control our ability to make war or to give us motivation to work and not to simply eat, drink, and have sex all day?

I’ll leave that for the anarchists out there to discuss.

 

Revolution v. Incremental change

“God forbid we should ever be 20 years without such a rebellion.” (Thomas Jefferson)

(source)

Thomas Jefferson, despite his flaws, has been an inspiration to me in my life. I have a cloth-bound copy of his writings which I found in a little used books store in DC many years ago, and I read a bit from it now and then.

Bernie Sanders

Sen. Bernie Sanders

In a conversation I paid attention to among some Facebook friends yesterday about the upcoming presidential primaries (specifically concerning the candidacy of Bernie Sanders, who I am supporting), a comment exposed some skepticism as to whether Sanders’ political revolution is possible or even likely. The sentiment was that political change occurs slowly, incrementally. The idea is that the “Hope and change” we progressives wanted with Obama only partially happened, but that we want more. Some people think that’s not going to happen, and we need to be patient and work within the system for change to happen slowly.

That actual revolutions are rare, usually bloody, and don’t happen in the way that Sanders’ supporters would like.

And if we look back on history, we don’t see too many successful purely political revolutions. Perhaps the recent election in Canada are an exception (I have not been following Trudeau’s moves, but I’m glad that Canada has moved in a more liberal direction), and perhaps Sanders winning the presidency would be similar in scope. However, would such a feat equal a political “revolution”? Or would it merely lead to more congressional inaction due to Sanders being unable to bring more liberal congressmen to office to help motivate the change? Would Congress be as gridlocked as it has been in the last 7 years?

Would it really change anything quickly enough to warrant calling it a “revolution”?

I don’t know.

But shouldn’t we be trying, anyway?

That’s a good question.

 

I, Plato

So, taking a queue from Plato, I was thinking about how political mechanization can be analogous to ourselves. If I were to think of myself as an analogy for a nation, although not a tripartite one (because the relationship between reason, emotion, and desire are not actually hierarchical at all, nor are they separate modules in any clean sense), is it possible for a person to have a true revolutionary change in behavior, outlook, and disposition? Sure, we can change, but can we do it overnight, over a few days, or even weeks?

Lord knows I have tried, over the years. But have I succeeded?

No, I don’t think I have. And I am unsure whether I even can. So, is it true that true change can only be incremental?

After all, some people claim to have been born again, right?

I’ve had certain moments where I felt like I had changed. But, upon further reflection, this was really a matter of emotion and mood. A few days later, a few weeks later, I was back to the same song and dance, but with more experience. That experience is key; something from that mood stuck with me, and little by little those moments of clarity, the feeling of something having changed, accumulated into slow, actual long-term change.

And what I’m concluding about this is that while the cumulative change will not happen overnight, we need the temporary, passionate, and radical thrusts towards a better nation and person in order to keep us pushing forward. Whether it is politics or person, we need the revolutionary energy to keep pushing the conversation and the insight into ourselves to keep moving in a direction we want to move.

The United States may never becomes a liberal, Democratically Socialist country like I’d like it to be, but we need people like Bernie Sanders shifting our attention in that direction, even if they cannot implement that change as a candidate or a president. Similarly, I may never be the man I wish to be, but if I don’t allow myself to feel the passion of being that moment today, and from time to time, I will settle into a comfort zone of who I am, rather than keep pushing on.

And I need my temperamental desires, my reason, and my will to work in collaboration in order to get there. I will not make my will, desire, nor my reason to submit to any of the others, but I will let each do what they do best, and allow the process to bring forth growth.

Am I a different person than I was 1, 2 or 5 years ago? Yes. But that changed happened with incremental change fueled by periodic revolutionary moments of trauma, my own mistakes, and intellectual insight. Those revolutionary moments supplied the ideological horizon I should be moving towards it, but often gave the illusion of already having reached it.

Electing Bernie Sanders will not complete the revolution, but it might be a step in the right direction. Making a wise decision about what I will do in my life won’t make me my ideal self, but it’s also a step in the right direction.

Be patient, but don’t allow patience to prevent you from pursuing passionately from time to time. Because otherwise our patience turns into complacency and comfort. When we stop trying for revolutions, be become part of the establishment; we become the conservatives of tomorrow.

 

 

Montaigne January 22, 2016

Posted by shaunphilly in Personal.
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Because I’m not in a place of writing, but more of reflection and reading, I figured I’d throw in a bit that resonated with me from this evening’s reading.

For, I think, the first lessons with which one should saturate his understanding ought to be those which regulate his habits and his common sense; that will teach him to know himself and how both to die well and to live well.

-Montaigne

That is all for now.

I hope you are all well.