Leaving the Poly Republic(ans): an open letter to the poly community


Dear polyamory community,

Especially Polydelphia, who booted me almost a year ago for a mix of (admittedly) good and corrupt reasons. And who made no attempt at restorative justice, despite your paying lip service to this very powerful and important concept.

OK, so right off the bat for the sake of clarity, I’m not becoming monogamous. My long-distance girlfriend, who is married to someone else and who is quite dedicated to sexual and romantic freedom, might have something to say about that. Not that she could prevent me if I decided to do so, but she would likely just laugh at me and think I’m being silly again.

(Side note; she somehow didn’t know I was silly until she was already dating me. Somehow, she got the impression that I’m very serious and lacked mirth from my years of writing. I wonder why she concluded that? In any case, in real life I’m extremely silly, irreverent (I think that might have been clear), and I definitely do not take myself very seriously at all.)

Anyway, back to (not really) shedding the thing that is half of the portmanteau which is the URL of this (increasingly irrelevant) blog….

So, a number of years ago, while still a member of polydelphia, I started to notice the rifts and factions forming in the polyamorous community, especially online. Facebook has been awful for a while now (I’m barely on it, now), and polydelphia in particular has become increasingly awful since they decided to make up that I was threatening people within the group and banned me (which was annoying, but the place is a shit show so whatever? A number of my friends had already left, previous, for the same reasons I was being critical of the group). But like just about everything in our culture, now, we are more divided than ever, and each faction sees itself as righteous and the others as bad.

Remember when that happened in the atheist community? Yeah, look at it now. David Silverman, Rationality Rules, The Atheist Community of Austin, oh my! (I’ll leave my opinions on those particular people to the side, for now, as they are not pertinent to this post).

Well, the poly community is very much the same, and the various factions continue to fight and dismiss one-another, and have become toxic.

And I’m so done with that community in general. Polydelphia won’t have me back, quite likely (and I would be very unlikely to want to be back), but I’m done with the community in general. So done, that I’m contemplating just dropping the “polyamorous” identifier from my life. This was spawned during a conversation with one of my closest friends, with whom I was having drinks last Saturday. A long-time member of the lifestyle (swinger) community, and a person I met through the local poly scene several years ago, we have bonded over many things, including both of us being total geeks. But the silliness and toxicity of the poly community right now is among the things we bonded over.

And I have to ask; is there any benefit from calling myself “polyamorous,” anymore?

 

Labels describe

So, this is the point where my amazing girlfriend, as brilliant as she is, would remind me that labels are mere descriptions. And as she has argued that no matter what the association of the word ‘atheist’ has, and no matter how annoyed any of us would be with the community, the fact that she does not believe any gods exist means that she simply is an atheist, and that declining the word would be absurd (Someone tell Neil deGrasse Tyson!) and meaningless.

Which, well, is true. Insofar as I continue to maintain multiple sexual and romantic relationships, or at least intend to, and do so in a transparent way, then no matter my thoughts on the connotations of “polyamory,” I simply am polyamorous. Conceded.

And yet….

And yet my friend, who definitely does not self-describe as polyamorous (but who definitely transparently maintains relationships with multiple women), finds the whole damned thing to be ridiculous. He looks at our former friends in that community and just shakes his head. He gave up on you all a long time ago. Us re-connecting was a chance encounter, and one that has led to one of my closest friendships. And I can’t say he’s without a point in wanting nothing to do with any of you.

He is unimpressed and amused with all of the conferences, the self-righteous posturing, and especially the social mud-slinging over theory and control over such groups. And when he articulates such thoughts, all I can do is say amen, brother.

Shit, I think I just understood why Neil deGrasse Tyson refuses to adopt the label atheist.

Yeah, labels describe, but sometimes it describes who you are associated with. And I don’t wish to be associated with most of you. There are a few in there which I still love and will miss, but the community is too much of a mess to want to be associated with it, anymore.

Here are some reasons why.

 

The Republic and the thing about people….

get it? Res+Publica? Gah! Nevermind…

So, we might think of the leadership of the poly world as, in a sense, representatives of a set of ideas and the groups which form the groups which form the conferences, social events, and orgies which constitute the poly world. Such people are as potentially amazing and corrupt as anyone else (and are often both), but they are, at bottom, merely people (like I said, both awesome and corrupt).

But those people have a kind of power. Influence? definitely. Control? In some cases, especially of the rules of groups, choosing who speaks at conferences, etc. But most importantly they control the narratives. Those who speak first control the narrative, so I’m now very suspicious of certain people who are doing this loudly. We are on the eve of a time when those who manipulate will either be knocked from their pedestal or will solidify their influence with different tribes within the community, and those tribes will be ossified into tribes, with canyon-sized rifts between them, just like the atheist community.  You will stop listening to each other (Many already have), you will point fingers and blame, but it will be all of our faults (mine included, in case you wonder if I think I’m innocent here. I’ve waged war, and we all lost).

When individuals or political alliances form (sort of like parties in the poly republic, vying for control of the larger community) and are faced with individuals or parties with which they have disagreements, bad blood, or mere power-struggles based in nothing but a desire to be in control, then the rest of us are left siding with our friends, the first narrative we heard, or who aligns with our worldview more. People will fall into different factions or tribes. Those factions will not be divided by people with the truth and good ideas over here versus people with bad ideas and abusive pasts over there. Instead, it will be multiple, in some cases overlapping, factions who will all have good and bad ideas, people with various levels of harm caused to other people, and better and worse (and separate) conferences. Some might be better than others, but they will all think they are that one.

Just like in all politics. And right now, those vying for control of polydelphia, in particular (not the steering committe, per se, but those who drive the narratives) are a lot more akin to the Democrat and, perhaps more appropriately now, the Republican party than I’m comfortable with; dismissing evidence that doesn’t favor them, defending people they know are guilty within, and holding sway with many well-intentioned people who go to the rallies conferences to cheer for their idols. Idols who are as problematic as any of us who found themselves on the wrong side of a narrative-promulgation.

The general community are overwhelmingly lovely, funny, and cuddly people who I adore. They are the people out there just getting freaky with their many loved ones from day to day without concern for the politics around them, with little understanding of how the sausage is made. They may have opinions or allegiances but what most of them want is just to find people with whom they share one slice of their worldview, and maybe get invited to the cuddle party. They just want a community.

They don’t generally care about ideological purity or the definition of solo poly (for example). They get annoyed by squabbles and just stay out of the line of fire. And when wars erupt (and one is coming), they tend to tune it out, stop attending events as often, or leave groups. Many are left without a community, in that case. Many are left wanting that community, but see it as so toxic that they refuse to re-join. Many of them were hurt by those screaming the loudest about how the community needs to be safer, ironically.

And for what?

Well, all sorts of reasons. Let’s look at a few of them, shall we?

  1. Ideological purity: We have to make sure that the people in our group have the right ideas, are educated in the complexities of goodthink better ways to do poly, from people with experience. Never mind that people with experience disagree on these things. Never mind that we all fuck those things up. Purity is important at the level of ideas, if not action. I’m bothered by this, but have addressed this elsewhere (here and here, for example).
  2. Safety: These communities need to be safe for those who decide to participate, so we need to keep bad actors out. Agreed, in general. Of course, where the line is is a point of contention. Also, pretty much everyone hurts people, and if you make that line in such a way that minor issues become cause for removal, then nobody, especially those screaming for safety, are immune from accusations. I know, for a fact, that those screaming for safety in the local poly community in Philadelphia (polydelphia) are protecting their friends from accusers who have been bullied out of the community. Many of those hurt people are genuinely terrified to speak out. One of those people who have acted inappropriately is giving a keynote speech at Poly Living tonight. Yup, I’m talking about you, Kevin Patterson. You are no role model. Not because you made mistakes and hurt people (we all do. I certainly have), but because you take advantage of your popularity, charisma, and celebrity to brush off your mistakes while vilifying and push out others who do similar things. You do not deserve to be talking to a community about responsibility, sir. You need to take responsibility first. (I won’t be naming accusers because they asked for anonymity. It is up to them to come forward, if they decide to do so. But as I was told, the accusation is sufficient to hold the accused accountable, right?)
  3. Friendship: We know our friends make mistakes. But we love them, and they have wonderful attributes, so we are willing to over look or dismiss the accusations against them as overblown (and, perhaps they are). Just like the friends of the people that you pushed out of the community, like me (and perhaps you may have overblown our sins, as well). This is how in-group/out-group works. You defend your friends and vilify those with whom you have beef. It’s usually the bullies who gain control. That’s what has happened here, in Philadelphia. You are all amazing, talented, smart people who have made yourselves into bullies. I know you don’t see it that way. Bullies never do. Remember; how you see yourself is how Donald Trump, and his fans, see Donald Trump.
  4. Control: At bottom, some people just want power. They get drunk on it, and that power breeds righteousness and a large megaphone (in Trump’s case, a MAGAphone?). A very few of you just like the power it gives you. Most of you are trying to do the right thing and are making mistakes. But those who seek power and attention often find it.

There are others, but that’s enough to make my point.

It’s all for vanity. People being human, all too human.

And, in the end, those in control of the narrative, who have the masses on their side because they are charismatic and have a good story to tell, are equivalent to the GOP right now, in relation to the impeachment and Senate “trial” we just watched implode. You stick together, you vilify dissent, you remove people from your organizations for vastly inflated or made-up reasons (I’m not the only one), when (some of) you are guilty of the same things. And then you think of yourselves as defending the safety of the group. Good intentions, very poor execution. You are failing at the one thing you are screaming about. You are making the community toxic, and calling it social justice. It’s not justice, it’s tribalistic in-fighting. Youa re failing at justice because you are as unjust as those you vilify. You are human, and you’re fucking up. We all do it, but some of us know we are doing it and try to do better. You need to do that too.

You have done corrupt and unjust things and spun narratives which benefit you. The politics of the poly world are no different than the politics of the US government. And the people defending the “safety” of polydelphia, as well as other groups throughout the poly world, are acting just like the Senate Republicans. You have, are, and will likely continue to hurt people all the while screaming about “safety” (“what about the children!”). It’s a distraction. Clean your own friend-group first.

I hope that those you have hurt decide to finally rise up and speak out against you. Many of them are terrified, traumatized, and beaten down. You’ve stolen control of a group with your self-righteous bullshit. So, retaliate, against me, if you like. Become the Donald Trump of the poly world. It will hurt me, it will continue to traumatize me, and it definitely will cause me sleepless nights and anxiety (I’ve barely slept this week), but someone needs to call you out. Since I’m already a pariah and boogeyman, fuck it. Have at me, hypocrites.

 

Taking responsibility

I’ve made my mistakes. I’ve hurt people. I’ve been abusive, manipulative, and I’ve ruined relationships with good people who I cared about. I’ve struggled with mental health issues (there has been therapy and growth) which exacerbated problems in relationships and compelled problematic behavior .  I have allowed my temper to terrify people, I’ve manipulated people (it was never intentional, but I’m still responsible), and I have acted irrationally in ways that chased many people away. I understand why many of you are former friends, and I do not blame you for distancing yourselves; you made rational decisions, in many cases (though, not all). I have allowed my mental health issues (recent therapists don’t consider me diagnosable as a Borderline anymore) to cause likely irreparable harm to many many people in my life, and I am so very very sorry for all the hurt I have caused. To anyone who has been hurt by me who hears of this, I offer my sincere apology. I was awful at times, and those moments have haunted me for many years. If any of you want to reach out to me, I will extend the offer to talk. Otherwise , I will leave you alone.

But the irony is that some of the people who hurt me, and people I’m allied with, the most are the ones vilifying me the most. Many of them likely don’t even know that there are people out there for whom they are the abuser. It’s frustrating to me because they talk publicly as if they are the pinnacle of moral behavior and victimhood, but have done awful things themselves.*  The accusation is enough, right? Well, then it is the case that either:

  1. You are also an abuser who should be banned from the community, like all the people you point finger at. or…
  2. Your algorithm for who should be banned is self-defeating and ridiculous, because nearly everyone would have to be banned, and then there is no community.

Your “community standards” for safety are broken, toxic, and are the very foundation of the problems in the community as much as any Shaun McGonigal is. You all have, at some point, hurt, been abusive to, or manipulated people (myself included). Clean that log out of your eye before you bring out that ban hammer again.

I’ve done the work. I’ve improved myself. I’m healthier. I don’t know what work you have done, some of us have never felt as if you even acknowledge that you did anything wrong. I know you can do better, because you are all also intelligent and amazing people in other moments. We don’t want you banned or prevented from speaking, writing, or leading. We, the pariahs, the dismissed, and the banned just want you to stop pretending you are innocent when you aren’t. If you want safety, start with yourselves.

Much of what you have been doing in recent years is toxic and unhealthy, in my opinion (not that you care about my opinion, of course). I know you are better because I’ve seen all of you be amazing. Absolutely, brilliantly amazing. I loved all of you, I saw you all shine, and you are not doing so as well as you could now because you’re caught up in creating and maintaining a culture which also toxic, even if it’s not as toxic as that which you fight.

“Beware that, when fighting monsters, you yourself do not become a monster… for when you gaze long into the abyss. The abyss gazes also into you.”

-Nietzsche

You’re likely laughing at me and my arrogance, right? How dare I criticize you, right? I get it. I’m not expecting to convince you any more than I’d convince someone cheering for Trump at his rallies. I expect to be ignored, dismissed, and retaliated against. I know that’s what you do.

I, however, will not back down from you. Not because you are wrong and I’m right, but because we are both wrong and both right in different respects, and we’ll never know in what respects by dismissing each other. I’m not dismissing your opinions of me. I’ve, in fact, spent many a therapy session, sleepless night, and personal writing in order to work out what I can learn from you and what, I think, you are getting wrong. I know you are right that I have done many bad things and hurt people, and yet I have grown and done the work. If you actually believe in restorative justice, and I know many of you do (in the community in general, I mean here), then actually practice it. Many of you have no idea who I am now or what I have done in the last few years. I know you think you do (which is not to say I haven’t made mistakes and hurt people in those years, but–again–I’m human I we all fuck up), but you have blocked me and dismissed me at every intersection so your information is old and your intel colored by a lenses of your tribe. If you insist upon continuing to do so without actually finding out what I’ve done in the intervening time, then your opinion must be considered suspect and factionally biased.

People who fuck up, do the work, learn, and get better is the goal of restorative justice. What you seem to want is punishment, banishment, and to crystallize an image of our worst moments into a definition of who we, pariahs, are. That’s not justice.  I did, am doing, and will continue to do the work. I still have more to learn and to master, but I’m working every day to be better than I was the day before.  Isn’t that what I was supposed to do?  You have every right to ignore me, but if you come at me still, then you best be sure you know of what the fuck you speak.

We will never be friends again.  That’s not my goal. So, I’m not asking you to do it for my sake, though I think you might want to consider doing it for the people you might continue to hurt, as I decided to do for my own life. Goodbye, my former dear friends. I have missed you from time to time. Take care.

 

So, to the poly community in general, and Polydelphia in particular, I’m leaving you behind because you have failed to create a safe, fair, and healthy community. Not for a lack of stringent enough rules or number of ban hammers, but because you fail to realize that safety is not achieved through fear, banishment, or mere demonization of people who fuck up, disagree with you, or who you just don’t like. All you have done is create an environment of fear in which anyone who has fucked up (and you all have done so) must say the right things in support for the goal of “safety,” keep quiet and hope nobody considers them important enough to out them, or preemptively attacks their “enemies” by labeling such people as problematic in order to define the narrative before those “enemies” can do it first. Maybe a few of you are actually without fault, in this regard. Cool. But are all of the people you defend also innocent? Would you react differently to an accusation against your friend than you would someone you don’t especially know or like?

There is a culture of fear in much of the poly community, and in our culture in general (shout out to ContraPoints). If you don’t see this phenomenon around you then consider that in this case it might be you who is in the position of privilege and power and are oppressing people around you without seeing it. Take it from a cishet white dude; it’s really easy to miss, even if you think you are seeing it. Those structure are, indeed, real, but they can act in communities by anyone of any background, no matter their place in the larger systems of oppression.  Access to control over systems of power and oppression within communities is available to anyone if they reject the possibility that they have the ability to be blind to it. And we are all, at times, blind to our own power and control over people. Everyone. No exceptions.

Many of you are blind to your own power in this community, right now. One of you is about to give a keynote address at Poly Living 2020. Taking responsibility, indeed. Will you, really?

I’m seeing this all over the polyamorous community, and it will lead to ruin of the entire enterprise. I hope you are able to fix this going forward, while you still can.

I no longer have any hope for the polyamorous community to thrive.  I know you are capable of it. Many of you are fucking it up right now, despite your good intentions, but you are also (all of you) smart, talented, and beautiful people who have the power to make the world a better place if you have the courage to do so. But you have to start with yourselves, your friends, and your tribes. Just like all of us as a species, nations, etc, we have to fix our own houses first before we start offering advice for how to build a bigger house for us all to live in a happy poly commune of love.

I wish you all the best. You’re going to have to do it without me. I’m sure you are relieved that this “abuser” is gone (wasn’t he gone like a year ago? Who is this nobody, anyway?). Now, you just have to deal with the ones in power in your community, doing lip service to safety.

Good luck.

-Shaun McGonigal, former abusive partner, current pariah, future unknown (but optimistic)

 

 

 

 

 


*I was very close to publicly outing some very bad behavior of some former very close friends and lovers, here. I believe I have every moral right to, given what that have done to me, but have decided it’s wiser to leave that aside, for now. Sorry for the disappointment, drama-lurkers.

Our enemies might be good people, if we cancelled red alert now and then


Put phasers on...stunning!
Put phasers on…Stunning

I have been saying, for many years now, that I care about what is true. And, I do. But in reflecting upon some of the events over the last few years, there has been a splinter in my metaphorical appendages which has been annoying enough to make me re-evaluate this tendency, because I’m beginning to believe that this is too difficult a task to ask for without a strong awareness of how truth is so often tribal dogma or goodthink, rather than Actual Truth™.

Actual Truth™ is not so much a goal, ideal, or entity we can hold and share, because that would imply that we already have it, or at least its coordinates, to indicate. And this, I believe, is the focal point of the error that so many people make (myself included). And so I want to take some time, today, to make a distinction between truth as a metaphysical concept versus framing it as a process, because I think this would solve many problems we run into while attempting to convince people of the “truth” of something.

Whether in politics, religion, or inter-tribal warfare, the “truths” we carry with us are designed to be defenses and weapons, more than reality.  But if you’re interested in reality, you may have to leave some of yourself aside for a bit, and take yourself much less seriously.

First, some definitions.

In reality, I'm looking mostly at Reddit
Not relevant at all

Reality as a metaphysical construct

Back in the old days, especially with the ancient Greek philosopher Plato who defined much of what would be considered “philosophy” for centuries within the Western European traditions, truth was (in a sense, anyway) a thing.  Depending on how literally you took some thinkers of this tradition, truth was literally a Form or Ideal in the universe, immutable and (possibly) discoverable. Philosophy and science were just a means of uncovering truths in the universe through discourse, investigation, and (eventually) the scientific method.

In the philosophy of mathematics, for example, there is a debate which goes back quite a long time as to whether numbers, and mathematical relationships in general, are real things that we discover or if they are in a sense created as tools for our understanding the relationships between things. The nuances and grey areas within this debate are beyond the scope of this post, but if you’re interested in such things, the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy has a good article which can serve as an introduction to this area of study.

For our purposes here, the point is that some people think that the truth is actually real, in some sense. What is the densest material on Earth? Well, that’s a question with an answer which we can find (it’s Osmium, according my my Google-fu), and that answer is a real, true, fact about the nature of the world.  If we wanted to know the densest material possible, well, that might be a different question which may or may not have a real answer, based upon how good our tools are to investigate such a question. Follow the same link as above to see a short discussion of neutron stars, for example.

So, in short, such a question has an answer which we can point to. What’s the densest material found on Earth? Osmium, duh. And you can point at your heavy osmium jewelry so that everyone can be very impressed. That is until you die from exposure to osmium tetroxide, which is a compound formed when osmium is exposed to the air. You know, that real stuff which is all around you all the time. Maybe settle for Iridium, if you’re seriously rich (it’s extremely rare). I, personally, wear a ring made of tungsten carbide which is like half as dense but still pretty heavy, but nobody is really impressed. Fucking haters….

Anyway, back to reality.

So, you can find a real truth to a question, but you have to make sure that the terms are well defined and have rational and empirical (when available) evidence to support the relevant facts. And many people believe that this is an indication that there is some actual reality which our language uses to describe, and by use of this idea the word “osmium” refers to a real thing which is, in fact, the densest (mass/volume, a real relationship, obviously) found on this planet. And then you can point at your collection of osmium (hopefully contained in some sort of sealed vacuum container, this time) and impress everyone with your strange collecting hobbies.

What I’m trying to get at here is that even if we have a definite answer to a question, the definiteness is the operative word. That is, we need to define the scope of the question to isolate a concept in such a way that we can make some sense of it and define the logical structure of the thought such that the answer makes sense rationally. The definition acts, for us, as some sort of lens through which we can “see” the real object. But do we? Is our definitional lens the thing itself? Do we ever really pierce the phenomenal barrier to reality and see the thing itself, the noumenal? (Kant says no, and he may be right). Aren’t all the things we perceive just simulations in our head of a thing which may or may not actually be out there, in reality? That seems to be the case, to me. But the definitions, the context, and the framing by which we perceive the real objects literally shape the world around us, and thus there is a sense in which it is true that we create the world we perceive, even if that construction is based upon something real “out there.”

And when we’re done with such construction, we have something to indicate, refer to, and interact with. We have reality, even if it’s just a simulation. It’s a construct of language, definitely (see what I did there?), but is it actually real outside of our conceiving of it with words and neurons firing? Is it more than a linguistic and cognitive construct?

Are we in some sort of Matrix?

I don’t know. But let’s take a look at another way to conceive of this question, for context.

 

Truth as a Process

Now, if you were paying attention to my clever section above, you may have noticed that I sort of hinted at this part already. Because even if there is an actual reality beyond our language and thought, the process to define, isolate, and logically structure the true thing is dependent upon, well, a process. Thinking is a process, logic is a process, language is  a process, and science is most definitely a process.

All too often we will find people describing science in terms of “science says” or “we learn from science that” followed by a fact or set of facts. Science tells us we evolved from earlier primates. Science says water is made up of two parts of this and one part of that. Science tells us that stars are giant balls of fire very far away. These facts are just more examples of conceptually defined and structured words and thoughts, and by focusing on these conclusions we are missing the really important part of what science (and intellectual investigations in general) is all about.

What matters is the process. What tools are we using, how do we use them, why are those tools better than other tools, and are we using our tools well enough? And this is true in the history of ideas in general, not just the physical sciences. It’s also true of our worldviews, beliefs, and personal narratives about ourselves, friends, and enemies. Everything we hope to understand will be dependent upon what processes we use and how we use them. The reliability of any conclusion will hinge upon how we use such tools.

It’s much more valuable to have a strong handle on the process than the true fact/conclusion, because with the former you can get the latter, but not necessarily the other way around. Give a man a fish versus teach them to fish, blah blah blah.

And we are processes too. In a physiological and cognitive sense, we are a jumble of inter-related processes which serve a myriad of functions, rather than a static being. We are perpetually changing, growing, and cycling through processes we don’t have full conscious access to, but which are unavoidable. Our assumptions, beliefs, and perceptions themselves are dependent upon these processes and defined by them. The truths we hold, therefore, are secondary to the processes themselves.

The more we pay attention to the processes (both external and internal, assuming that distinction is meaningful) which we use to understand the world, the less we’ll be transfixed by the truths we accept, and we’ll be better prepared to replace those conclusions which have previously been put on pedestals or made into Platonic Ideals or Divine Reality with newer, better ones. Further, if we are able to improve our processes, we are less likely to get stuck in modes of thoughts and also better see past the faults in our truths and our methods. That is, not only can the truths we accept be upgraded, perhaps our processes can be as well.

If you believe Jesus is Lord or that psychic powers are real, these conclusions are based upon existing processes. If, upon further introspection, investigation, and skeptical analysis we discover that our processes can no longer support these conclusions, all the better (if the processes are good and used logically). But the further improvement would be to improve, reform, or replace your processes. A person whose epistemology consists of “God said it, I believe it” has a bad process installed, and so it’s no surprise when they conclude that Jesus is Lord. Skepticism is just a better process than presuppositionalism, for example, and can lead to more rational conclusions. That is, our processes are not merely relative, but some are better at others in terms of making sense of the miasma of phenomena we have to contend with.

What’s important here is to see that the process itself is a lens through which we construct the world. It literally shapes perceptions and defines our thought. It shapes the process doing the simulation of the world. The hard part is being able to identify your lens, in order to compare it with alternatives for the sake of upgrading or replacement; if you can’t understand how you see the world, you certainly will have a rough time correcting irrational truths and conclusions, and your beliefs will stagnate in errors.

And, this is the point in my writing that I am suddenly very aware that I’m trying to make a similar point I made in my MA thesis (a criticism of the illusion of ontological dualism as being an artifact of projecting a faulty tendency of thought onto reality itself), and that I’m about to start talking about Alfred North Whitehead.

(And yes, for once this was actually a spontaneous realization, and not a baked in “surprise” to my post, as I often do)

So let’s take a very brief pause and talk about process philosophy.

 

Make Whitehead Relevant Again

Alfred North Whitehead
Alfred North Whitehead

So, when I was in graduate school at West Chester, I had just discovered Alfred North Whitehead, or ol’ Whitey as I’ll call him (OK, no I won’t).

Whitehead was a contemporary of Bertrand Russell, with whom he collaborated in the 1890s on the subjects of mathematics and logic, but the two later moved in different directions, philosophically. Whitehead is not a well-known philosopher today largely due, I think, to his rather unorthodox metaphysics. But when I first read his work (especially his seminal Process and Reality, published in 1929), I was struck by it in a profound way. I wasn’t convinced by it, exactly. I didn’t become an acolyte like David Ray Griffin or John Cobb, both of whom went on to talk about theological implications of Whitehead’s process philosophy.  But I did find something very valuable in shifting the way we think about reality, and process philosophy became a valuable metaphor for doing so. (In fact, part 2 of my MA thesis commits to seeing his metaphysics as a metaphor rather than a literal ontology, which I still think is a valuable take on Whitehead’s work unlike the essentially worthless Process Theology of his said acolytes, with whom I am still quite annoyed)

The essential thing is this; rather than focus on reality as a set of definite stuff interacting with other stuff (whether the simplistic ancient idea of tiny “atoms” and the “void,” as articulated by Democtritus in the 5th century BCE or later ideas of atoms as protons, electrons, etc), Whitehead invited us to imagine the world made up of processes. The perception we have of stuff is, in his theory, a kind of snapshot of the process. What he called prehension was, in some sense, us perceiving a moment of the process and creating the illusion of concrete stuff.* That is, the perception of the solidity and “stuffness” of reality is an illusion we create, but that all things are just a complex process and not actually things in the sense philosophers of old tended to think of it.

The implications on quantum mechanics, metaphysics, and science are interesting, but there are reasons his theory never really grabbed hold of the philosophical world the way that his contemporary, Ludwig Wittgenstein (who was also a subject of my MA thesis and part of my criticism of Whitehead), had on later philosophical thought. The reason is that his ideas were bad, if taken literally. I still believe that, as a metaphor, they are an interesting tool to understand aspects of the world.

Read his work if you’re curious about the details, but that is enough to move on with.

 

We are the warped lens through which we see all possible worlds

Do you see yourself as a person moving through time and space, taking in information, making judgments, and coming to conclusions about people, things, and ideas?

Me too. But let’s look at a shade of that idea which might either elucidate something or merely annoy you. Perhaps both.

Think about someone you love. Or like a lot. Or can tolerate for small periods of time, at least. Think about how you think about them, as well. What are the emotional associations with that person? How would you feel if you see them, or merely imagine them, being cruel to someone else, undeservedly?

Now imagine the same for someone you hate or dislike.

What’s the difference?

Now, what’s the truth? What kind of person are those people of whom you just thought? Is the first one having a bad day, and is the second person confirming your dislike of them? Or maybe you love or like a bad person, and have misjudged someone else who is just having a bad day? When did the truth of each of those people, and all the other people you could think of, become a real, definite, thing? When did you decide to love the first and hate the second, and why do you still do so?

When did you first deify or demonize them? When I asked you to think of someone you loved, you probably had at least one person in mind. Why that person? Why didn’t you get confused and accidentally think of your worst enemy? Didn’t you already have a lens, a filter, of your perception set up, for each of those people? And didn’t your new observation or imagining of them being cruel pass through that filter, rather than come to you uncolored?

Why was one on the good side of your filter, and the other on the bad side?

In order to save time, we humans tend to use general concepts (stereotypes, really) as place-holders for more nuanced and accurate perceptions. We have quick and dirty schema to make sense out of the people, objects, and concepts which surround us. One of these conceptual shortcuts is the tendency to define dualities or continuum, which leads to binary thinking, in many cases. In some religious traditions, such as Zoroastrianism, there are opposing supernatural beings pulling us in two different directions. The Light/Dark side of the Force, from Star Wars, is a fictional example of this (but aren’t they all fictional? ZING!). In the Christian world, it’s God and the devil, which derive from concepts more akin to something being placed in an idealized pedestal and something thought of as evil, harmful, but still powerful.

Gods and Demons, loved ones and enemies. Simple, effective, and rarely accurate at higher resolutions, but fairly universal of human perception and worldviews.

These examples of how we categorize people, ideas, places, etc are very natural and easy ruts for us to fall into, and doing so doesn’t make us weak, broken, or wrong in any moral sense, but I believe we have some responsibility to be aware of this tendency and to lift ourselves out of this rut when we see it happening. And I have written about tangential issue to this before, I know, but today I want to focus on seeing ourselves, our friends, and our enemies as processes so that we can, perhaps, allow ourselves to see people for what they are in the process of doing, rather than merely what they did that time when we froze our image of them in a timeless box. If we want to know what is true, we need to compensate for our tendency to sum up our surroundings up quickly and simply, in an analogous way to how video is a better tool than pictures to capture the reality of some thing we are investigating. Seeing people as processes is more accurate than seeing them as a defined and idealized objects, or static pictures.

Because if every one of us, you and I included, are stories we are telling ourselves in real time, then that story may change and have moments of mistakes, successes, and many more of boring, everyday, actions of little moral significance. A snapshot of any of these moments is only part of the whole process, and we need to be able to look at patterns over time rather than one tweet or moment of emotion (for example). It’s all too easy to allow such moments to define someone and to therefore decide to cut them out of our lives (“cancel” them), rather than the harder effort to understand them as complex human beings with possibly nuanced behavior and beliefs.

But more importantly, we need to remember that the story we are telling about ourselves is also a lens through which we see the rest of the world. It distorts ourselves as much as our surroundings, and if we want to define the lens, then we have to pay specific attention to the warping and distortions of our worldview. That is, we need to be very attentive to how we deceive ourselves before we can be sure we are beginning to see an accurate picture of the rest of the world. If you are unaware of the shape of your own lens, then you have little hope of being certain about the reality of anything around, or within, you.

You can love people who casually and normally do harm because they endeared themselves to you in the right way and at the right time, and you can despise someone who is kind and considerate because they did (or you heard they did) something that specifically irks you. And for some third person, with their own perceptions and opinions, those two people whom you love/hate could be reasonably swapped, and the person you love they will hate while your enemy is their trusted friend. And they may hate you, despite your good qualities, to boot. A little perspective goes a long way towards love, hate, and indifference.

So, how can we start to discover the shape of the tool through which we perceive reality? You have to start by being willing to question the most valued and sacred things; not your beliefs, per se, but what you are. You need to re-evaluate yourself, your processes, and the beliefs that those processes have wrought.

And it’s so easy to get that wrong, and therefore very easy to turn incorrect perceptions into deified truth because you revere your warped lens. For some people, their values are sacred parts of their identity, but I believe that those are the things we need to be most skeptical about.

If you want to see the world correctly, you need to start by seeing yourself correctly. And we are so good at lying to ourselves.

 

A correctly shaped lens has a depression

I’m going through a bad bout of depression, currently. It’s that time of year, and it’s been compounded by factors in my personal life, and I know it will pass. But in the meantime, I’m struggling. Depression lies, as the Bloggess says. But is that all it does, and is it the only liar here?

Some research has shown that depression has a tendency to offer some amount of cognitive clarity, rational thought, and nuanced reflection (the so-called “Depressive Realism,” see here and here) such that the rose-tinted view of the world is less prevalent, and we are able to see things are they are, to some degree, better

From the New Yorker, in 2014, in an article making reference to a famous set of experiments about depression and perception of reality:

Not only were depressed individuals more realistic in their judgments, they argued, but the very illusion of being in control held by those who weren’t depressed was likely protecting them from depression in the first place. In other words, the rose-colored glow, no matter how unwarranted, helped people to maintain a healthier mental state. Depression bred objectivity. A lack of objectivity led to a healthier, more adaptive, and more resilient mind-set. (source)

So much for self-help and the power of positive thinking as a means to seeing the truth.

In the quiet moments of self-reflection, I can tell myself that I am my worst mistakes. All the things that my enemies say about me are true. I deserve ostracism, enmity, and distrust. In times of confidence I can, alternatively, tell myself that I have done so many great things, maintained so many good relationships, and have done work to learn from those mistakes, and all the people demonizing me are merely unable or unwilling to see the distance between their crystallized image of me and the real me, which makes them wrong and possibly cruel in continuing to attack, defame, and ostracize me. So fuck them, right? They are assholes, and not worth my time.

These are just two different shapes of the lens I am capable of creating for myself.  Neither is true, in any real or absolute sense. They are different framings that I project, and they will make the world look quite different from the other. Depression lies, but so does self-empowerment and pride in some identity. All our lenses lie, to some degree. The key is to figure how how and how much each lens lies to us, and not to become transfixed by any of them whether self-deprecating or self-empowering. The truth lies elsewhere.

I don’t believe the sad thoughts my mind whispers to me when feeling down, but I’m similarly skeptical of things such as “The Secret” or optimism as a means to empower ourselves, because it seems like a self-deception as well. And in some sense it is most definitely a lie. I have a close friend who swears by it, and believes that his optimism and attitude towards success are what makes him successful. Perhaps it does have that effect, but it is still, in some sense, a lie. It’s a lie of control, and arguing with someone who believes that they will succeed would be fruitless, mostly because they are insisting upon their deception and proud of it. They begin to shape not only their own lens, but the lenses of people around them and thus creating the power structure that wasn’t there previously. So it’s not only a lie, but it’s one that creates a new kind of truth which is then accepted socially, and thus has power.

I’m not confident most people will use this power for good, so I am not a fan of this approach.

But, more importantly, this teaches us that we can create a shield-lens around us which creates an intersubjectively real social field that effects our behavior because it defines our perception. The tall man walking confidently down the street in his obviously well-tailored suit, nice shoes, and expensive briefcase carries himself with self-empowerment, and this confidence effects not only his perception of the world (which is a lie), but it effects the shape of the field of others around him (whom are telling themselves a different kind of lie, perhaps). These social shield-lenses are the social structure in which we live, every day, and it helps define the culture, economics, and local identities which seem as real to us as the car he’s getting in or the homeless person he just ignored.

Because, again, we construct reality. The simulation of the car, the man, and the social status happen in the same mind, and have similar real effects on our behavior. And if these constructions are lies, even if only in part, then shouldn’t we be more skeptical about them?

We create our own reality, right? We define and create the truth, correct? Like-minded people, who view themselves as powerful, in control, and successful band together to create a tribal lens, and rival groups push and pull the reality around them leading to a world of competing tribes with their own realities, each of which is the lens through which they see the world. Other tribes will look warped because both sets of tribal lenses warp the reality as perceived intersubjectively, and the next thing you know there is no possibility of getting to any agreement, let alone Actual Truth™, because everyone is invested in their individual or group lenses which are defining their own realities, and warping all the other realities. It’s a vicious cycle.

It’s very possible (super easy, barely an inconvenience) to be a genuinely intelligent, well-intentioned, and honest person living your life as part of a community while trying to make the world a better place while simultaneously participating in the demonization and harm to other people. It is, in fact, the norm. I think everyone thinks they are, even when acknowledging errors and mistakes, generally good and doing the right things. Actual psychopaths are rare. The rest of us have normal good people as our enemies.

I believe, after some years of deep contemplation, that I’m almost certainly wrong about a lot of things, especially the things with the most emotional weight. The people I’m hurt by and dislike the most are not monsters, but flawed humans who just happened to hurt me in the right way and at the wrong time. And I know that people exist for whom that person is a trusted friend or partner, but who absolutely hate me.  Do any of us deserve that? Like I said, actual psychopaths are rare, and it’s possible that I’ve known one or two, but in general I must conclude, unhappily but rationally, that I hate people who are decent in many ways. And so do you.

It’s very easy for me to fall into the rut of demonizing people for the ostracism, untrue accusations, and attacks I have received from factions within the polyamorous community (for example). Because despite the fact that I know most of those people are smart, honest, and well-intentioned, they are also corrupt liars just trying to protect something. And I think I know what they are protecting. It’s the same thing we are all protecting, in the end; ourselves and our lenses.

Because as a lens perpetuates in a person, group, or culture, that lens becomes a mythology, a narrative, and part of an identity. And this is how misperceptions, deceptions, and lies become part of who we are and what is sacred to us. And this is why I try to hold nothing sacred, because for me all is subject to scrutiny and criticism. And we all, in every group, have our sacred ideologies. It’s time to pull them down off their pedestals and re-evaluate.

 

It’s time to drop the shields

Remember how I was lamenting how we lose track of the fact that we are complicated, and that if we stopped deifying and demonizing people and saw them as complicated processes, then we might be better off (or whatever my point was)?

We’ve moved from the analogy of a snapshot image of a person, thing, or concept as being worse than a video of them. See them in real time, as a process, and we see more of the context and more of the truth. Except this is the wrong analogy. It’s the wrong analogy because it seems to imply that what we need to do is more actively pay attention to the lenses we are deceived by. It implies that we may need to take control of the shape of our lenses, talk with other people about their lenses so that we can start to understand one-another better, and finally start to talk with one another.

This, quite frankly, will not work very well. The reason, I think, is that this lens which we create, as individuals and as groups, is a projection from our (sacred?) values and beliefs about who we are. It is like a spell we cast around us, actively made stronger by the illusion, referred to above, of control. It is the very thing we see as a positive thing–confidence, empowerment, and identity–which creates it. If there is anything I have benefited from, in times of depression, it is the moments of quiet, passive clarity which allows me to drop the pretense of control and the identity it may provide.

Having actively meditated for many years helps this, as well. I have trained my mind to focus on its own processes, and between moments of sadness and self-pity and surges of confidence is a quiet space of stillness and authenticity in which even my most hated enemies are human and understandable, and my most loved and trusted human and imperfect. It is during these rare and valuable moments when I realize that the only way we can understand each other is by recognizing that we are not what we think we are.

We are not as self-aware as we think.

We are not in control of the vast majority of things

we are not right about most of what we believe

None of us. And it’s not our fault; this is the human condition. It’s just that all of us are almost always transfixed by a set of distortions of reality and ourselves, created by our attempts to better control and understand ourselves and the world around us.

We are, at best, semi-aware bits of matter filled with stories and concepts shaped by lenses we can’t see.  The more we focus on any of it, the more we create the illusions in which we live our every-day lives. Just like how money is an illusion which we create, so is everything else we see. Whether the illusions are good things or not is besides the point, because if we recognize that they are not real, then we can’t become affixed by them and defined by them. And, finally, we can’t create gods, demons, or even truths if we aren’t willing to lend reality to the phenomena we’re projecting.

I’m not suggesting that we just give up and live as nihilists, but I’m suggesting that we all, as individuals, groups, cultures, and as a species (and potentially as a member of all possible semi-sentient beings) kill all of our gods, demons, and even our very identities. If we do so, we will begin to understand that we don’t know anyone, really, especially ourselves. Then we can stop defining people so easily and quickly based on limited information and context.

Only then can we start to glean the truth.

What is the truth? I don’t know. And neither do you. Perhaps if we realized that, we would yell at each other less on social media, and realize that people in power are really projecting a narrative that probably won’t be helpful to you. The one yelling the loudest is creating the biggest lens for themselves, and they won’t be able to see you as well as you can see them.

I see you out there. I don’t know who you are, but I’d be willing to sit quietly with you and maybe try to let my shields down, if you will.

 

Parting thoughts

None of this means that there isn’t actually any true things. This is not a nihilistic screed. There are still better and worst ways to govern, behave, and things that are more true than others. The point here is that we need to realize that the beliefs and behaviors which allow us to succeed in accomplishing things in life, whether self-confidence, empowerment, or group identity is also a source for self-deception. In terms of achieving practical success and accomplishment, the useful lies are helpful. But those very same perspectives and skills are detrimental in terms of seeing the truth.

I believe that much of religion and the history of mystical thought has realized this for thousands of years, but the mistake is attributing this to some more real world or more real being. This, ironically, is exactly the problem, rather than the solution. Just like how Trump supporters err in believing Trump-like “strongmen” are the solution to corruption, lying, and incompetence in government, mysticism and religion are wrong in believing that a supernatural or magic reality is better than the mundane/sinful world it tries to overcome. It is the very projection of a solution which is the source of the problem. I think there is a reason that many Trump supporters are evangelical Christians; they are both transfixed by the same fundamental error of not seeing reality because they are believing, so hard, that their savior is real when it’s all a deception. And it’s one they could stop projecting, if they weren’t so self-interested in maintaining it.

We need to stop mistaking our lenses for reality.

I don’t know the solution to this problem. I’m just no longer impressed by our human bullshit.

And I’ll continue to do my best not to get hyped by my own bullshit.

I’m not only out of fucks, but I’m convinced that the fucks aren’t even real to begin with.

 


*anyone familiar with Whitehead just winced, because I simplified that to painful extents. In reality, Whitehead believes that our consciousness is that process of the stuff we are made of being aware of itself, as all matter is supposed to do. According to the theory of Process Philosophy, all matter does this prehension at different levels of complexity, and the level of complexity adds up to different levels of consciousness. This leads to what some followers of Whitehead call panpsychism, which is, in many ways, the foundational idea to much of the ideas of universal consciousness (a la the annoying Deepak Chopra and so forth).  The idea, popular with many spiritual traditions throughout cultures and history, that consciousness is part of the nature of reality itself, often leads to the belief that the entire universe would be aware of itself, and everything below it is in a hierarchy of awareness, including ourselves, animals, plants, rocks, etc, are all concious in some sense. This self-awareness of the universe is what God is for some Process Theologians. I’m not a proponent of panpsychism or process theology at all, but it’s an interesting philosophical attempt to make rational many spiritual and religious ideas, which I still run into when talking with many “spiritual” people. In short, Whitehead created a metaphysics which was influential on a lot of woo mysticism of the 20th century, which would make him my natural philosophical opponent.

Surreal


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.

Where am I?


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


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


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


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?


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….


[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


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.