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We are not all swimming in the same river October 26, 2013

Posted by shaunphilly in Skepticism and atheism.
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When I was younger, I really wanted to be wise.  I had a vision of me being the kind of person that when I became old, other people would respect me and come to for life advice.  I was fascinated by books such as the Dao de Jing, by the historical character of Confucius, by Socrates, and many other figures who are considered wise.  I tried to cultivate a cultured and educated manner.  I tried to be intellectual. It was not all pretense; in fact, it was mostly genuine, if not sophomoric and (as Gina would say) “full of shit.”

Over the last few years, I have begun to understand this drive from a different point of view.  I have come to realize that this motive comes from a combination of the desire to be loved, respected, and to not become the kind of person that people avoid, rather than come to.  In short, it was a reaction that people often had to me, and for good reason.  There are people who are no longer friends of mine and who want little to do with me, and in many cases the fault is mostly mine.

When I was introduced to the concept of Borderline Personality Disorder by a therapist a few years back, it led to a set of realizations.  When I was younger, back when I wanted to be wise, I was struggling with feelings of confusion, fear, and guilt about my erratic behavior.  Other people didn’t fly off the handle, yelling and throwing things, when they got angry.  Something was wrong with me, but I didn’t know what it was.  I wanted to be the opposite of out of control, so I wanted to be a symbol of control.  I didn’t want to be seen for what I was (a violent and unpredictable boy with a tendency to be moody and sullen), I wanted to be seen for what I valued (intelligent, rational, calm, and likable).   So why was it so hard for me to do so, when it seemed so easy for so many other people?

Because I am swimming in a different river.

And as I started to reflect on this over the last few years, another angle of this became clear.  It was struggling just for normal, acceptable, behavior.  It wasn’t so much that I wanted to be some wise guru, living on a mountain (perhaps next door to Zarathustra) who everyone respected, it was that I was struggling against a current that other people didn’t experience.  I was simply trying to appear normal while struggling frequently.

But before I started to understand this, I had built up so much resentment, anger, and frustration at seeing other people so easily deal with emotionally trying circumstances (compared to what I often did, anyway).  I didn’t understand that they weren’t actually succeeding in struggling against the an overwhelming current of virulent emotions like  I was.  I didn’t understand that such a current of emotions was rare for them, rather than constant and overpowering.  But I was so angry, ostensibly at them but really at myself, about it that it has led to many deep wounds and scars that I still have work to understand.  There is still work to do.

See, for so long I thought that at some moral fault, rather than simply dealing with a shitty situation.  I thought that when I got angry and made a scene, I was the only one in the room who had not succeeded in stifling the urges.  I thought everyone else around me was struggling with these feelings, and doing it better than I.  And so I strove for that power to restrain and repress it, to appear calm while hurricanes blew in my head, and to appear calm.  And so I built invisible armor for myself, holding in the feelings i assumed everyone else was having and restraining as well.

And I did this for years, until it became habit.  I did it for a long time, with periodic explosions as the armor shattered against the pressure.

Anyone who meets me for the first time will probably assume I’m relatively non-emotional.  I’ve been told this by many people, including some ex-girlfriends (before i started to become comfortable with my emotions, which is still a struggle) even up until quite recently.  I appear robotic, hyper-rational, and even cold sometimes.  It is a defense mechanism that I have built over many years, and deconstructing that wall is not easy.  It may take the rest of my life to do so, assuming I ever can.

(I hope I can)

But now I understand that most people aren’t walking around with a chaotic storm within them.  Most people don’t have frighteningly violent thoughts several times a day, aimed at people who are guilty for minor annoyances.  Most people aren’t swimming against a current that sometimes takes all of their mental fortitude to not be pushed back by or drowned in (because depression is a thing).

And yes, there is another side to this.  There is the overwhelming feeling of love and intimacy that I am capable of as well.  Of course, the problem is that especially in the beginning of a relationship, it is terrifying to show this.  I’m afraid that, much like the potential harm I am capable of, the level of intimacy I can show would be too much for someone, especially when things are new.  I’m afraid of pushing people away.  i was, in some past selves, the guy who was too into that girl after one date.

But you know what is even more terrifying, to me than all of that? Intimacy with other men.  And, I know, this is common in our culture.  I also know that part of this is due to my relationship with my own father, who is a sort of foil for me (the Darth Vader to my Luke Skywalker, as I sometimes think of it).  Men are hard because they reflect myself too much.  I see the same fear in them that I show, and I hate it because I hate that part of myself.  I hate that we keep doing it, and that I don’t know how to fix it.

It’s easier with women, because the sexual and romantic feelings open the door to other kinds of intimacy.  Perhaps it would be easier if I were bisexual.  Perhaps not.  But either way, this lack of intimacy can lead to the problem of relying too heavily on sexual and romantic desires becoming too prominent when befriending women, but for the most part I have been fairly good at mitigating this.  But with other men?

Terrifying.

I have no interest in the machismo game of our culture.  I don’t want to play dominance games, and usually simply avoid them for the sake of peace and not escalating into a situation where I will very likely lose control of my temper (which, to macho men, probably seems like weakness.  But man is it hard sometimes…).  I am a little amused by such games, but I feel more sadness at it.  I feel sad because it is so often the source of the barriers that men put up between each other, this machismo and dominance games.  Sometimes I’ll walk away with a smirk, feeling superior for not playing, and other times I walk away feeling angry, for ‘letting them win.’  Neither are the right attitude, I don’t think.

I think the right attitude is to come away from such things feeling sad that another path could not have been taken.  I think that in such games, nobody really wins.  I don’t win by being emotionally superior, and they don’t win for having me back down.  There simply is no winning there, only loss on both sides.

So, have I become wise? Will I ever be wise? I don’t know.  At this point, I find the whole question to be a rationalization for a conceit.  That isn’t to say that I no longer care about being wise, but that this caring is fading over time.

I hope, one day, that I can stop trying to be wise, so that perhaps I can just be content whether I’m wise or not.

ah, just more conceit….

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The Privilege of Passion June 19, 2013

Posted by shaunphilly in Skepticism and atheism.
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I was out watching the Chicago Blackhawks win game 4 (in overtime) of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, at a local bar I like (because they have a great selection of beer), when I saw that I still had about half a beer to drink once the game was over.  I had brought with me (because I’m totes a nerd, even while drinking beer at a bar with a hockey shirt on) a copy of Nietzsche’s The Gay Science which I started reading again recently.  It’s great because it’s a collection of loosely related aphorisms, so it’s perfect for reading when you don’t have a lot of time, and because it’s just an awesome book.

After reading a section about Nicholas Chamfort (which reminds me that I should read some of his work in the future), I got to section 96, which reads as follows:

Two Speakers.– Of these two speakers, one can show the full rationality of his cause only when he abandons himself to passion: this alone pumps enough blood and heat into his brain to force his high spirituality to reveal itself.  The other one may try the same now and then–to present his cause sonorously, vehemently, and to sweep his audience off their feet with the help of passion–but usually with little success.  Soon he speaks obscurely and confusedly; he exaggerates; he omits things; and he arouses mistrust about the rationality of his cause.  Actually he himself comes to feel mistrust, and that explains sudden leaps into the coldest and most repugnant tones that lead his audience to doubt whether his passion was genuine.  In his case, passion always inundates the spirit, perhaps because it is stronger than in the first speaker.  But he is at the height of his powers when he resists the flood of his emotions and virtually derides it; only then does his spirit emerge fully from its hiding place–a logical, mocking, playful, and yet awesome spirit.

This spoke to me in a powerful way.

I have read this particular book a few times already.  But the last time I read it was a few years ago.  Books like this one reveal how we grow, sort of like how when you read Catcher in the Rye every few years to see how you react to the protagonist.  This little paperback is marked up, annotated (I have a system), and is now starting to fall apart a little.  Yet this section was not marked much.  It had slipped past me the first few times I read it, but not this time.  I have sections so inked up, noted, etc that you can barely read the text, but this one was hardly marked at all.  But today when I read it is jumped out at me.

I have been thinking a lot recently about the relationship between argumentation and emotion.  For many years, my writing, perspective, etc was tied up in powerful and partially irrational emotions.  A few years ago, after a pretty awful part of my life, I was told by a therapist that I should read about Borderline Personality Disorder.  Upon doing research, I discovered that there was a name for the particular brain crap that I had been battling for as long as I can remember.  And reading this section of Nietzsche, it makes me wonder it, perhaps, Nietzsche understood something about what it’s like to be me.  I generally think that Nietzsche had insights into humanity that the vast majority of people do not (and perhaps cannot); the fact that I read this book a few times and missed this one makes me wonder what other aphorisms he wrote, which have so far left me cold, have to offer.

There is a part of me that wants to reach out more, emotionally, to people.  But the fact is that when I allow my emotions to lead, more likely than not I will speak poorly, get caught up in anxieties, or simply lose my place in the conversation.  Arguments, especially in person, make me lose my rationality to some degree because I become enveloped in a shroud of emotions; fear, uncertainty, sadness, etc.  I enjoy conversations, but I have come to accept that there are certain types of tones of voice, body language, etc which trigger feelings that I cannot control.  I can guide them, but I cannot harness them.*

I have this ideal view of me becoming a person who iss patient, kind, and attentive person in discussion.  I listen, understand, and respond without emotion clouding my judgment, or without becoming paralyzed by uncertainty.  I desire to be able to listen dispassionately and allow my intellect to efficiently solve the problem, or at least to understand it.  The problem is that I cannot maintain that calm in actual conversation most of the time.  I may appear calm and collected (and you likely have NO idea how much effort it requires just to maintain that appearance), but the fact is that I’m not.  I’m filled with potential outbursts which are inappropriate, destructive, and (for me as well) terrifying.

So, when I read the section quoted above, I felt like I had at least one person who understood.  There is a strength in me, an intelligence and a perspective  capable of awesomeness, that is hard for me to maintain.  But it is there.  Those emotions which rise up when I become anxious are indeed tempting; it’s much easier to allow those emotions to control my behavior than to remain rational and calm, but I cannot simply remain calm.  I cannot allow my passion to step forward because it’s too much for me (or most others) to handle.  That, and what it causes me to say and do have little to do with what my intellect would say.

Others, who have passion but are not overwhelmed by it, can allow the full force of that passion to flow freely.  It comes across as authentic and meaningful, because they don’t have to restrain it.  That is their privilege.  In my case, since I cannot simply let my passions to freely compel my words and actions, the act of restraining it makes it appear forced–ironically because I am not forcing it out, but forcing some of it in.

So, I cannot allow my passion to flow freely, most of the time.**  There is too much of it, most of the time.  So I will continue to practice resisting the flood, perhaps even to deride it.

But no, I shall not speak ill of emotions and passion.  They are both beautiful and powerful, and wonderful tools for those who can wield them well.  But for me they are often too dangerous and destructive to myself and those near to me, and so I will keep striving to develop the ability to speak with passion put aside, knowing that even in doing this it is passion which is the cause of my speaking, ultimately.  The idea, I think, is to allow passion to fuel my words, not to compose them.

[BTW, I was very tempted to title this piece The Passion of the Anti-Christ, but was not sure how many people would appreciate that reference, even though I’ve already mentions Nietzsche here.]

*If you are thinking, right now, that this is something that I can learn to do, then you are in a place of neuro-typical privilege.   This is one of the key parts of my disorder, and the danger is that I think I can control it, but I cannot.  The best I can do to explain is taht the very process of attempting to control the overwhelming emotion simply feeds it, and before I know it it has taken over.

**There are times when I can.  Those times are sometimes late at night, either by myself (struggling to remain sane, rational, and calm while battling some fear or another) or with Ginny or Gina who try to do anything to help me not hurt so much.

Borderline February 4, 2012

Posted by shaunphilly in religion, atheism, polyamory, culture.
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I don’t talk about everything about myself on this blog.  I try to keep it pretty focused on skepticism, polyamory, and religion.  But there are certainly more things about me than this.

Recently I wrote about my struggling with Borderline Personality Disorder, and the post went up today at this new blog which I have been following about Mental Health issues in the secular community.

Here is a link to my post.