The Republic of The Self January 29, 2016Posted by shaunphilly in Culture and Society, Personal.
Tags: Bernie Sanders, growth, politics, revolution
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One of the first philosophy books I ever read, when I was around 14 or so, was Plato’s Republic. It’s a very well-known and influential book, both in the philosophical world but also in Western culture in general. The basic theme of the book is that there is a discussion, including Socrates and his interlocutors, about the nature of the human “soul”, by use of an analogy of creating a perfect “Republic.”
The concept of the “tripartite soul” was derived, in part, from this book (also the Phaedo). Plato saw us as being made up of logical, spiritual, and desirous parts, all having to work together in a hierarchical fashion in order to achieve harmony and happiness. Analogously, the state, in this case an ideal republic, should be made up of the “philosopher kings” (reason/logic), the soldiers (will/spirit), and the citizens (appetite/desire).
Plato’s psychological theory is, of course, unscientific and not used by psychology (and his political one as well, given his inability to build a successful state himself) but nonetheless this idea is embedded in much of Western thinking (for good or ill, probably more the latter). How often do we think of ourselves as having to use reason or logic to reign in our will or desires? Don’t we still see, in some ways, our leaders as a means to control our ability to make war or to give us motivation to work and not to simply eat, drink, and have sex all day?
I’ll leave that for the anarchists out there to discuss.
Revolution v. Incremental change
“God forbid we should ever be 20 years without such a rebellion.” (Thomas Jefferson)
Thomas Jefferson, despite his flaws, has been an inspiration to me in my life. I have a cloth-bound copy of his writings which I found in a little used books store in DC many years ago, and I read a bit from it now and then.
In a conversation I paid attention to among some Facebook friends yesterday about the upcoming presidential primaries (specifically concerning the candidacy of Bernie Sanders, who I am supporting), a comment exposed some skepticism as to whether Sanders’ political revolution is possible or even likely. The sentiment was that political change occurs slowly, incrementally. The idea is that the “Hope and change” we progressives wanted with Obama only partially happened, but that we want more. Some people think that’s not going to happen, and we need to be patient and work within the system for change to happen slowly.
That actual revolutions are rare, usually bloody, and don’t happen in the way that Sanders’ supporters would like.
And if we look back on history, we don’t see too many successful purely political revolutions. Perhaps the recent election in Canada are an exception (I have not been following Trudeau’s moves, but I’m glad that Canada has moved in a more liberal direction), and perhaps Sanders winning the presidency would be similar in scope. However, would such a feat equal a political “revolution”? Or would it merely lead to more congressional inaction due to Sanders being unable to bring more liberal congressmen to office to help motivate the change? Would Congress be as gridlocked as it has been in the last 7 years?
Would it really change anything quickly enough to warrant calling it a “revolution”?
I don’t know.
But shouldn’t we be trying, anyway?
That’s a good question.
So, taking a queue from Plato, I was thinking about how political mechanization can be analogous to ourselves. If I were to think of myself as an analogy for a nation, although not a tripartite one (because the relationship between reason, emotion, and desire are not actually hierarchical at all, nor are they separate modules in any clean sense), is it possible for a person to have a true revolutionary change in behavior, outlook, and disposition? Sure, we can change, but can we do it overnight, over a few days, or even weeks?
Lord knows I have tried, over the years. But have I succeeded?
No, I don’t think I have. And I am unsure whether I even can. So, is it true that true change can only be incremental?
After all, some people claim to have been born again, right?
I’ve had certain moments where I felt like I had changed. But, upon further reflection, this was really a matter of emotion and mood. A few days later, a few weeks later, I was back to the same song and dance, but with more experience. That experience is key; something from that mood stuck with me, and little by little those moments of clarity, the feeling of something having changed, accumulated into slow, actual long-term change.
And what I’m concluding about this is that while the cumulative change will not happen overnight, we need the temporary, passionate, and radical thrusts towards a better nation and person in order to keep us pushing forward. Whether it is politics or person, we need the revolutionary energy to keep pushing the conversation and the insight into ourselves to keep moving in a direction we want to move.
The United States may never becomes a liberal, Democratically Socialist country like I’d like it to be, but we need people like Bernie Sanders shifting our attention in that direction, even if they cannot implement that change as a candidate or a president. Similarly, I may never be the man I wish to be, but if I don’t allow myself to feel the passion of being that moment today, and from time to time, I will settle into a comfort zone of who I am, rather than keep pushing on.
And I need my temperamental desires, my reason, and my will to work in collaboration in order to get there. I will not make my will, desire, nor my reason to submit to any of the others, but I will let each do what they do best, and allow the process to bring forth growth.
Am I a different person than I was 1, 2 or 5 years ago? Yes. But that changed happened with incremental change fueled by periodic revolutionary moments of trauma, my own mistakes, and intellectual insight. Those revolutionary moments supplied the ideological horizon I should be moving towards it, but often gave the illusion of already having reached it.
Electing Bernie Sanders will not complete the revolution, but it might be a step in the right direction. Making a wise decision about what I will do in my life won’t make me my ideal self, but it’s also a step in the right direction.
Be patient, but don’t allow patience to prevent you from pursuing passionately from time to time. Because otherwise our patience turns into complacency and comfort. When we stop trying for revolutions, be become part of the establishment; we become the conservatives of tomorrow.
Time, perspective, and healing November 2, 2015Posted by shaunphilly in Personal, Polyamory.
Tags: boundaries, confession, growth, relationships
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Last week, I ran into this 6 word story in a listicle:
Strangers. Friends. Best friends. Lovers. Strangers.
and when I reached this story, I sort of froze inside. How many times have I experienced this? Too many? Just the right amount?
Not enough times?
Someone I used to think fairly well of used to say that relationships ending isn’t always a bad thing. A transition of a relationship from one thing to another is often good, and I have people in my life who have transitioned from lover to friend (and sometimes back again) and other transitions, in various directions, numerous times. I am on very good terms (even if we have often grown distant) with most of my previous lovers and partners, with a few glaring exceptions. Some people I thought I would never speak to again are now people I’m closest to. Others, who I thought I’d never be apart from, are now strangers.
Nonetheless there have been a number of relationships that have ended where even a friendship could not be maintained. Sometimes it was due to a mistake, miscommunication, or other problem one one or both of our parts, but quite often it was just because things changed, and our relationship changed. And, sometimes, we drift apart completely.
And, in time, no matter how I felt at the time, perspective is gained. Time heals all wounds? Maybe.
And sometimes that perspective provides greater truth and understanding, but not always. Sometimes, our own biases create stories that leave our memory of a person, and what happened with them, as a work of creative fiction. And while I try to avoid this (as all decent people try to do), I am as susceptible as anyone else (although I suspect I think about this more than most).
And through this process of greater understanding, perspective, and internal narrative creation I have come to look back on some relationships as failures (on one or both of our parts), some as escapes from something terrible, and some as really stupid misunderstandings which cannot be fixed because of one or both of our feelings (often pride and hurt).
Sometimes it’s just best to walk away, and leave a stupid situation be stupid, even if it’s for stupid reasons.
It’s frustrating, but there’s little we can, in general, do about it.
The last year
My life has changed very significantly in the last year. I was married, and now I’m not. 2014 was a tumultuous one of a household breaking up, dealing with unwanted drama, and all the people involved acting pretty terrible (yes, all of us. Some much more than others). And then my marriage went to shit (long before she left), partially due to the immense amount of tension from that situation, and it left me feeling unstable and perceptually afraid and hurt. Eventually, everything was awful and I suffered through months of the deepest depression I have ever known.
Now, I speak to none of the people I used to think of as my poly family two years ago, and have no desire to be involved with any of them again. I do not expect that to change, but I leave that to the future. I believe that nobody, no matter how awful, is completely beyond redemption. I’m just not holding my breath for any of them.
And I think I’m better off that way.
I never wanted to be divorced, so I waited to get married until a little later in life, and married someone I thought was someone who would be a good partner. I was wrong. The transition has been painful, anger-inducing, but mostly just disappointing. But I’m happier now than I have been in years, and I have, in fact, learned and grown significantly.
Anyone reading this who continues to scapegoat me as an abusive asshole can fuck themselves right off a cliff. I made mistakes, and I have always admitted my responsibility, and I will not accept your brushstrokes as reality. I’m not afraid of you, the truth, nor of myself (that, in itself, was a huge step for me). I accept the nuances that we all erred, we all had reason to be angry and hurt, and I can only hope that time will offer all of us the wisdom that it was all stupid and avoidable, even if not salvageable.
I’m responsible for my journey, and I will leave you all responsible for your own.
Am I angry? Damn right I am. But most days, now, I’m not. Most days, I’m actually doing very well. But I am angry, sometimes, and it’s for very good reason. The transition to get here has been shitty, but enlightening. And the goal is not to rid myself of the anger (that would be pointless to try, anyway), but to focus on the future rather than the past. The past is for learning, not for living.
The hardest part of the transition was forcing myself to remember that I made mistakes and hurt people. It’s so easy to allow the self-defensive narrative to write itself in my own head. Yeah, this person was awful in this way, and they did this, but I also fucked up. The other side of that is not taking all the responsibility; to stop punishing myself for mistakes I made because those mistakes happened in a specific circumstance, and I can learn both from the circumstance and from knowing how it felt to be responsible for hurting someone who trusted me and cared about me.
People who are now strangers.
And so I kept asking myself a set of questions; OK, so I fucked up. Now what? Am I going to stay the person who made that mistake or am I going to change? Am I going to solely blame others, or take responsibility? (those two are really the same question). Am I going to hide in a hole, allowing mistakes to define my whole life? Am I going to accept unquestioning support from people who sometimes said to me “they aren’t worth your time,” they are assholes,” “fuck them” or will I ask them to help me better understand what I did wrong and what I need to do going forward? When the people around you just tell you what you want to hear and feed the tribalistic impulses we all have, that’s not friendship or love; that’s part of what keeps narcissism alive.
And, perhaps most importantly for me, am I going to keep punishing myself, or am I going to remember that I made those mistakes because I was hurting, and because I tolerated people hurting to me for too long. Because I understand why I made those mistakes; I didn’t defend my boundaries and I allowed resentment turn into anger, and anger turn into being mean to people I cared about. Abuse happens for a reason, and where I have acted abusively I will simultaneously accept responsibility and fix the cause; and the cause is not that I’m an abusive person inherently, it’s that I am a person who has experienced abuse myself, over many years, and that cycle has to stop somewhere.
The Quakers have a saying, as part of one of the songs I learned while in (hippie) school;
“Let there be peace on Earth, and let it begin with me.”
Well, let the cycle end with me. I will try, every day, to no longer pass on the pain given to me by others because, as I have been working on for months now, I will defend the boundaries I need for myself better. I will no longer allow resentment and hurt build up until I hurt someone because they are (or someone else is) hurting me. In other words, I will not punish myself nor others for any pain, from any source. I don’t accept the threats of punishment from an illusory god, and I will not accept the punishment for an illusory sense of personal justice. When I, previously, saw the response to being hurt or injured as Justice rather than compassion, I internalized the same megalomaniacal fury of an insecure bronze-age god (YHWH/Allah/Elohim/etc) that I have been decrying for years.
Hypocritical as shit, I know. But at least I’m figuring it out now.
(I’ll point out, here, that Nietzsche has been trying to tell me that for years, but I wasn’t seeing it clearly enough. Thanks, Nieztsche, for trying.)
And I have never felt better about myself, my relationships, and my future. There will always be work to do, but I’m no longer controlled by the pain I have dealt with all of my life. And I no longer, as I said, fear myself. I’m not sure exactly when it happened, but it did happen. I’m supremely glad about that, because being afraid of oneself is, perhaps, worse than hating oneself (which I have also experienced).
Coming clean and moving forward
I have made some pretty awful mistakes in my life. Most recently, I hit my ex wife with a pillow and yelled some pretty awful things at her while I was immensely hurt and angry at her for reasons which are not relevant here, mostly because they are not excuses. I still have nightmares about it ever since, although they are increasingly rare these days. And while many people close to me have sympathized with my own pain, and in some cases even argued that what I did was not bad enough to warrant the marriage ending, that is not my nor their decisions. No matter how much I disagree with that decision and wished there had been any room to try to go a different direction, I have done my best to respect it and made no attempt to fight the request for a divorce.
And now it’s all over. I’m mostly OK with that, I just wish it had been possible to make the divorce a transition, rather than an ending. I simply could not accept the terms I was given, to make it a transition. Had I accepted the terms I saw in front of me to try and rebuild a friendship, I would have been capitulating to what I saw as a lie. I will defend my boundaries, where previously my insecurity would have sacrificed by thoughts, feelings, and very self in order to save the relationship. That will never happen again.
Due to that same insecurity, I’ve lived through many relationships with people who were terrible to me in many ways. And rather than create firm boundaries I allowed my resentment, anger, and fear to build up until I would throw a stool, hit someone with a pillow, and yell hurtful things.
And then, of course, I don’t have much of a leg to stand on in pointing out my own pain because I’ve moved the attention to myself. I throw a stool, so it doesn’t matter if this guy is being an asshole and making other people’s lives a living hell. He can just point to the stool I threw, and now I’m the focus.
Or, I hit her with a pillow so now all the reasons I had for being furious with her are irrelevant and can be brushed off and ignored.
That’s been the pattern, most of my life and with too many people. Not in all cases, mind you, but especially with people who trigger certain insecurities within me. Had I not buried the anger, allowed resentment to build, and let fear govern it all I could have avoided the outbursts and the alienation I felt.
I have understood aspects of this over years, but it is more clear to me now, after the least few years, than previously. And I will work on, every day, making sure that this cycle is not perpetuated.
To whom it may concern
So, those of you who are reading this and don’t trust me, think I’m an abusive person, or who might continue to make my mistakes the primary story…well OK. Cool story, bro. But we define ourselves not only by our decisions and mistakes, but also by how we respond to them. I will not ignore or merely dismiss your accusations and judgments, but i will only accept them as part of the story (unless they are true fabrications, which I have also had to deal with). I will learn from you, even if you have no interest in helping me, because there might be some truth to what you say, even if it is biased, embellished, or malicious. If I ignore that, I am merely pushing the narrative closer to my own comfort zone. That won’t stop the cycle, but merely inches along rather than strides towards growth.
Changing just enough as you have to is almost as bad as not changing at all.
And I will offer the same to you (all of you, out there). If you have made, or continue to make, mistakes, my judgment of your character will also be informed by how you respond, and not merely what you did. We all hurt people, to varying degrees. Own it, grow, and in time those you hurt may forgive you. In some cases, they never will. That’s hard.
Finally, those of you who have been there for me over the last year (or years, in some cases), I thank you from the bottom of my heart. I love you all, and I owe you a lot for your listening, emotional support, and trusting me enough to see that I am not the person that others say I am or are afraid that I am. You believed that I cannot be defined by my mistakes, and made an effort to see me through the work I had to do, when it would have been far easier to abandon me. You understood that if you really believed that I could grow beyond a set of mistakes, learn from them, and truly grow and heal, you had to stick around to see it.
Alternatively, If you said that you believed I could get through this but made no attempt to stick around….
Then perhaps you are not the person you think you are either.
I know who I am, and I like that person a lot.
Bouquets, brickbats, and trusting the untrustworthy May 24, 2015Posted by shaunphilly in Personal.
Tags: abuse, criticism, growth, trust
There is a distinction between trusting a person and trusting their ideas. Even the worst people can be right, even if they use the truth as a weapon. If you seek true understanding, it is worth paying attention to the criticism we receive, even if that bouquet of criticism is delivered with brickbats.
I have always been a person who is interested in self-improvement and introspective knowledge. This set of self-challenging ideals has been a large source of motivation for myself over the years, and it is not something which is likely to change. This predilection had led me to gain some fairly significant insight into not only myself, but of the people around me. The more intimate I am with them, the more I understand them. And while I’m nowhere near always right, the value here comes in that we have the ability to see where others cannot. Being even partially right where another cannot see at all is better than the myopia that would result in ignoring that perspective completely.
The knowledge gained from these perspectives can be used in ways that are loving, and ways that are not. And depending on all sorts of factors, such as our own emotional maturity, levels of selfishness and security, etc, that knowledge can be used in a myriad of ways both good and bad. If a person severely hurt, depressed, or otherwise behaviorally compromised then that understanding can become a weapon. It’s a part of being human.
And sometimes shit gets hard, and when we’re afraid and hurt what we know can become clothed in the ability to hurt other people. When this happens to me, for example, my intellectual understanding does not simply go away, it just gets loaded into a (metaphorical) gun. I’ve been hurt (let’s say), some way or another, and I know something relevant to the situation or to the person involved. And now I’m going to use that knowledge to re-direct that pain. I’m going to take that truth, wrap it in a napkin of my pain, and I’m going to show the person who hurt me how I feel.
It’s an unhealthy reaction, but it is a human one. I do not believe that this ability, propensity, and even occasional desire is unique or even rare; I think it’s part of being human, especially during difficult times in our lives. And when times get difficult, people hurt each other. And when people hurt each other, the ability to see nuance, truth, and even to recognize the truth in what people say is lost in the mire of that pain.
This is very unfortunate, and I believe that it is a mistake to ignore or distrust an idea simply because of it’s source. Skepticism asks us to seek evidence, and sometimes data comes from places that we may wish we had never gone, but it is data nonetheless. Ignoring an idea simply because the way it reached us was painful is a reactionary and emotional response, not a skeptical one.
When we dismiss a person, even the truth that they might have had for us gets thrown away as well. In my darkest moments, when I’m least certain, I might think that a person who has criticized me cruelly is completely right about me. But this is merely one side of a spectrum. Because other times, when feeling more secure, I think that that person is completely wrong, and therefore I don’t need to keep in consideration their opinion. How are these two things not the same error?
While we all can mock the words of a person we have dismissed as deplorable (and often for good reason), might it be that those words might have something to teach us, and that we are only dismissing them because those words were wrapped in pain and weaponized?
Is it possible to learn from the content of painful words, even from painful people? Can even pacifists learn from the technology of war?
Blind Spots and Bad Drivers
No matter how self-aware I am or become, there are always aspects of myself that I cannot see, at least not well. As I go through my life, I have built up habits which, as I “drive”through life I cannot see unless I specifically turn my attention to them. But I have to be willing to look at at them. And sometimes it’s painful to look in that direction, because that section of my universe may have emotional associations which I prefer to avoid, ignore, or forget.
It’s quite easy to forget (or to avoid) to look in that direction, as a result. It’s much more pleasant, and easier, not to. As an actively defensive driver (and yes, this is somewhat of a metaphor as well), I will keep an eye, sometimes, on where cars are relative to me and anticipate when a car is moving into my blind spots. Thus, sometimes I know a car is there even if I am not looking. But my attention is not perfect, and so if I plan on changing lanes, I need to peek anyway.
Especially if I’m tired, hurt, or otherwise emotionally distracted. I need to build up the habit to check where I can only see when I intentionally move my attention. And sometimes I need other people, even ones I may not like, to help me see those blind spots. Because quite often the people we clash with see things within ourselves that we do not like to see, and whether or not we trust their intentions, their perspective can often see what we cannot.
But here we need to be careful, because there are people who want to manipulate, control, and influence us in a direction that is not necessarily in our favor. There are people in the world who, despite being able to see some of the problems with our behavior and may, potentially, have something to teach us, they are more focused on their own interests to actually help us. They might tell us there is something in that blind spot which is not there (they may be projecting or are directly trying to deceive us). They may not tell you there is something there because they may think it’s not a big deal or whatever. Or, they just may not see it either, and are just as blind to that spot as you are.
And such people may leave us hurt, traumatized, and possibly less trusting. In those cases, we are then subject to over-compensating and becoming too focused on our own perspectives, and then we start to change lanes without looking. Trusting our own judgment is good, but sometimes it is the judgment of others, especially those who have hurt us, which we need especially because it is painful. There is a reason certain things are painful, and sometimes it’s because some truth is painful. In order to grow, we need to look at difficult truths and be willing to make effort to understand. Growth does not come from personal avoidance and people willing to simply be content with your own parochial myopia. Love and friendship is not merely celebrating what’s important to you, what you want, and what you can see. That is much closer to submissiveness to a quasi-narcissism than to love.
Challenge v. Control
I’ve been through, in my life, many experiences where people attempted (and often succeeded) to control me. I am also guilty of, in moments of fear, insecurity, and uncertainty, attempting (and sometimes succeeding) to control other people. I don’t like doing it, at all. I don’t want to do it, either. However, it’s part of the human dynamic and the distinction between the desire to help and to control is sometimes a very fine line, one which sometimes even the person perpetrating the advice/control cannot see. Navigating such treacherous waters is difficult on all sides, and only a few people actually want to and enjoy the kind of intentional manipulation of that control.
And when a person has found themselves in the position of being controlled, manipulated, and influenced too much, the reaction is often to become less accepting of opinion, of trying to trust their own instincts, and to sometimes close themselves off to what people who have hurt them have to say. And in many cases, this is for very good reason. But I am of the (probably controversial) opinion that it is especially the people who have hurt us that have the most to teach us.
Let me be clear. I am not saying that people who are abusive and controlling are right, especially about our character. What I am saying is that often pain comes from truth, even if that truth is twisted and deformed for the purposes of that control and abuse. The affect such people often have on us is so real because a true thing has been used as a weapon. The fact that a hammer can be used to hurt or kill does not invalidate the usefulness of the hammer in building all sorts of things.
The Devil will often use the truth, whether for a greater lie or for the sake of power, as it is said. But we are not talking about the Devil (and even if we were, in Jewish/Christian mythology, the Devil is merely an interlocutor and questioner of God, not a psychopath or even evil), we are talking about people. Of course, if a person is overwhelmingly using their hammer to attack rather than to build, then that person probably should not be trusted. But ignoring and invalidating everything such a person would say is akin to eliminating hammers in your life, rather than unwieldy carpenters.
Having been the receiver of a lot of criticism based upon some truth, it is hard to hear the parts that are true and to disregard the parts which are interpretation, attempts to hurt and control, and the parts which are not true. Being human, I have flaws and have made mistakes in my life. But I will not ignore or dismiss the words of critics and ideas whole-cloth, because to do so opens me up to the possibility of conflating the message with the messenger. Even an abusive person, in using abusive words and actions, may have some insight worth paying attention to (even if they don’t follow it themselves).
I don’t want anyone to be coerced, controlled, or abused, but I also don’t want people to shrink into their shells and accept only words from people who are willing to coddle them and not challenge their comfort zone. That is not love, that is how growth stagnates. There is a very difficult rope to walk on between self-absorbed obliviousness and accepting victimhood. One of the questiona I keep asking myself recently is whether one’s own obliviousness, self-absorption, and arrogance (sometimes framed as confidence or strength of will) is any better, in the long run, to being subject to the coercion and abuse from others. Either way, you are letting a limited perspective control you.
Trusting my own judgment and instincts is only in tension with, and not in contradiction to, hearing the criticisms of friends, acquaintance, or even foes. This is because even if I cannot trust a person’s intentions or motivations, sometimes I must trust their ability to see my blind spots when I can’t.
Therefore, I pay attention to criticisms, even from those I consider to be not trustworthy. I do not seek to internalize the ideas of abusive people, but to ignore their perspective seems equally problematic. The error in abusive control comes in the abuse, not necessarily the content. If abusive people could learn to find loving ways to show us what we cannot see, then nobody would need to shy away from their knowledge.
And this is as true of me as it is of anyone. My struggle is to find ways to share my perspective in ways that are not hurtful, and to understand the knowledge that even abusive people might have to teach me. I trust my judgment, but my judgment is limited. Those who can see some things that I can see, and some of those people are truly assholes, must complement what I can already see, or I risk the blindness and myopia that follows fear and mistrust.
Deception January 27, 2015Posted by shaunphilly in Personal.
Tags: Art of War, deception, growth, polyamory, Sun Tzu
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I recently re-discovered an old journal of mine that I thought I had misplaced. In fact, I think I misplace this journal every couple of years or so, because every time I find it I think to put it some place safe, and then forget where that place is. I wasn’t looking for it, specifically, this time. This time, I was just putting away some paperwork, and there it was.
Also, recently, I’ve started writing in a new journal. It was an idea that I came up with in the context of recent therapy sessions, and it has been helpful to have a safe space to write about things that are too personal, even for me. As readers know, I have not been shy about writing about some personal issues here, and that will not stop, but there are some issues I will not write about publicly.
I’ve also started re-reading The Art of War, by Sun Tzu. In the early chapters, I ran into the idea that all warfare is based in deception. The next line said “if able, appear unable.” In other words, make yourself appear weaker than you are. Or, at very least, do not present yourself as you are, so that your enemy cannot properly size you up.
This, immediately, reminded me of a quote that I ran into many years ago, one which has stuck with me over the years. I remembered it as having been written by Baruch Spinoza, who is among my favorites to read. The truth is that the quote is from Soren Kierkegaard, who I was reading around the same time, many years ago, so the quote was copied in my journal around a bunch of Spinoza quotes. The quote is as follows:
One can deceive a person for the truth’s sake, and (to recall old Socrates) one can deceive a person into the truth. Indeed it is only by this means, i.e., by deceiving him, that it is possible to bring into the truth one who is in an illusion.
The context of this quote, according to this source, is about why Kierkegaard sometimes wrote as if not a religious person (supposedly to lead people to Christ, as Kierkegaard was a Christian Existentialist). But I think it has some significance outside of this parochial context, and I think it can tell us something about human behavior which is worth some consideration.
I don’t want to dig deeply into that at the moment, but I think the most interesting thought embedded in there is the nature of illusion; is not illusion relative? Is not one who is in error prone to see the truth as an illusion? How human is it to be caught in a narrative which is quite delusional, but because one is within that web it appears sensible? Cults, religions, and even some cliques operate in just this way, and sometimes the only way through the miasma might be some creativity with perspective.
The mind is crafty and agile. The mind that wants to believe will, and it will move not only the goalposts, the ball, and the kicker but it will often shift the field upon which it plays in order to keep the illusion of coherence.
It’s harder to hit a moving target. It’s hard to hit what you can’t see. Stealth, in other words, is an advantage in war.
Is that analogy apt? Are we at war? And who are “we”? Civilization? liberals and conservatives? Exes? Family?
For many years, I have advocated transparency. I’ve been open about my flaws, mistakes, and struggles as a person who very much wants personal growth and improvement. And this strategy has been a mixed bag. It has led to some intimacy with people I’m close to, but it has also been taken advantage of by people who like to control people and narratives. And by a person who is especially good at, or at least has a strong desire to utilize, such control and who is also especially good as deception, open war would be fruitless and possibly unwise.
I don’t really have anything more to say on the subject right now, but I’ll end with a few thoughts about where I’m headed. I’ve been very quiet recently. Last year was a very traumatic and stressful one for me. But do not be deceived; I am not going away nor am I defeated. This year is a new one, and I am feeling better all the time. I’m gaining strength that I did not previously have. I do not fear anyone, or anything, because I have no reason to hide. My pain has only made me stronger.
Deception may be an art of war, but I have yet to decide whether I want to wage war or simply stride along my path impervious and uninterested in the distractions off to the side. So long as the distractions stay to the side, and do not land in my path forward, I will not focus on them. My path, however, is wide and it includes friends, organizations, and some parts of the polyamorous, atheist, and skeptical communities.
The debris which previous warfare has left behind me is not forgotten, however. This is not a washing of the hands, forgiveness, or anything of that nature. Far from it. This is a desire to move forward unmolested, if that’s possible.
Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.
Trauma, mistakes, and the pain of reflection December 23, 2014Posted by shaunphilly in Culture and Society, Personal, Polyamory.
Tags: growth, mistakes, relationships, self
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All of us carry some amount of pain within us. We, being prone to error, hurt one-another. Hopefully, this pain acts as a teacher, and as we grow, mature, and learn we become more aware of the causes of such things and our capability to hurt weakens. The strength to hurt, to control, and to manipulate are, after all, not reverent strengths.
I have my own pain, carried from various periods of my life. Some stems from childhood, but much of it stems from adulthood. The mistreatment I received over the years worked its way into my bones, and gave me a ubiquitous feeling of not deserving better or even being capable of better myself. I simply got used to not asking for, fighting for, or even feeling worthy of not being treated poorly, which has the all too common effect of not always seeing others worthy to not be treated similarly. Slowly, deeply, and blindly, I became a man who accepted mistreatment, receiving and giving, all too easily. From this was born the quiet, mostly invisible, and powerful demon of resentment, frustration, and ultimately a deep anger which permeated most of my adult life and relationships.
In short, pain begets pain.
All this came to a head in the last year, and I’m glad it’s almost over. All of the trauma I had received previous to the last year or so became magnified by newer events so damaging that I could no longer keep the resentment, pain, and anger within the armor I created to keep my emotions away from those who I wouldn’t allow myself to trust or get close to. I’ve written about some of this before, including when I told my version of what happened with the split up of our former house. In retrospect, I left a cult. The resulting waves, including false narratives and cold war which has sucked people into the cult-like area of influence, has been utterly ridiculous and beyond painful. Those events have been the traumatic trigger for much of the mistakes I have made in the last year, and may have repercussions of many years to come.
In the last year, the raw amount of pain from earlier periods in my life became so bad, so unbearable, that I began to lash out at the people closest to me while not realizing how much pain I was in. As a result, I lost relationships of immeasurable value to me, some of which I will never regain. What’s worse is the demonization I received from some of those parties. Just more fire to the trauma bonfire, I suppose.
These days, my thoughts are full of regret, loss, and the reminder that learning a lesson too late is almost always unhelpful. And what’s worst is the fact that most of it was completely avoidable if I had been less self-absorbed, selfish, and had instead listened to those who were trying to help. Not all of it was unavoidable, of course. Some people are too interested in being right, winning, and petty schadenfreude to have had some of what has happened go any other way. But with others, the damage could have been avoided.
And for that I am immeasurably sorry.
Let my enemies raise their glasses in triumph upon my admitting, again, my mistakes. Let them trumpet their flat songs and revel in their illusory superiority insofar as their delusion allows them to think their dank cellars to be castles. Allow those who care little for empathy or introspection beyond the tip of their noses to laugh and gloat in an illusory sense of triumph over those they abuse. I care not of the opinions of people too narcissistic and myopic to grow or learn from mistakes. I shake off the dust from my feet upon leaving their abodes and seek out better, healthier, lands.
I have been, especially most recently, in error. But the error was not mine alone. I, however, will take as lessons what errors were truly mine, and I will not place blame where it does not belong. I will not take upon myself full blame, nor will I shrug it off onto others when it is tailored for me.
My pain is not an excuse, even if it might be an explanation. My fear, compelling as it is towards acts of desperation, has ruled all too often and subsequently has upturned the potentially flat stones upon which my future path may have been otherwise laid. The ground before me now is unsettled, uncertain, and I have only to become more comfortable with that terrifying foreign land of The Unknown. Knowing that I still have wonderful companions along such a path is heartening.
Today, however, I step off the path, briefly, in order to risk the reflective and refreshing nature of the calm waters there. The fears of its depths are visceral, but perhaps nothing is more terrifying than the nature of it’s placid surface. For nothing is as terrifying as the depths within us, reflected in quiet and still moments besides our paths.
The dark nights of the soul will haunt more than any external spectre.
He who fights with monsters should look to it that he himself does not become a monster. And when you gaze long into an abyss the abyss also gazes into you.
-Nietzsche, BGE §146
In the calm, quiet, depths of the night you can no longer run away from yourself. Assuming, of course, you are sensitive to your own light and darkness, these quiet moments will sometimes compel insomnia and self-criticism. And yet some seem to be immune to the disquieting contrasts that the blinding light of solitude create within us, not seeing the shapes of the shadows that exposure and attention engender. Some people can’t be self-critical because they are blind to their own flaws.
I am reminded of J.S. Mill’s question of Socrates and pigs, and a tangential concern springs to mind; is it better to remain aware of our flaws and errors and unsatisfied or unaware and satisfied? Is it better to be content and ignorant of these contrasts within our dark souls? That is, is it better to see ourselves as righteous when none of us are? Would it be better to blind ourselves, like old Oedipus, to the truth of our condition?
Is ignorance bliss?
It’s all too easy to say that we should live in such a way that we do not regret, for when the regretful act is done no amount of living well can undo such an act except to learn from it, perhaps. Avoiding the reality of our responsibility, whether due to lack of concern or because it is too painful to reflect upon it are sociopathic and tragic, and will not lead to growth in either case.
We need the moments of stillness, introspection, and reflection besides our paths, if we care about truth and our relation to it. In the stillness between steps along the paths we traverse, the waters within and around us settle and we are forced to reflect or to keep moving in order to disturb that reflective surface and ignore that reflection. Stillness and quiet are imperative for those willing to surpass the depths within. Noise, motion, and distraction are the tools of those afraid of the abyss.
How many might wait for others to stand still besides that water, all the while dancing about themselves, in order to watch another ponder their own reflection while they, dancing or playing with their phones, to try to co-op the narrative of such reflection? Is this, itself, not a failure of meta-reflection? Is this, in a way, another kind of distraction? Is this not ultimately avoiding one’s own reflection?
Is this, in some sense, among the more terrifying capabilities we humans have, to look into each other and either fail to see ourselves or to see ourselves and not recognize what we see?
Is it more terrifying to see our own depths, or to see that we all share the same depths and are reflections of one another?
Such a realization might imply a kind of obligation stemming from that commonality. Such realizations might also uncomfortably seat us next to those we most despise, where we can think we are looking at their reflection when, in fact, we are looking at both of us or merely ourselves. But perhaps most terrifying is that it might reveal that those we love can as easily be hurt by us as they can hurt us, and that all it takes is the smallest amount of self-deception that we, individually, might matter more than them.
Pain (in love) begets Pain
How easy it is to hurt those we love, and how unfortunate that it’s so difficult to undo. When stones start to break the surfaces of those waters between us, it becomes much harder to see anything but chaos, pain, and to lose sight of those terrorizing reflections. For it is only the still waters which allow introspection.
Selfishness and blindness are two of the sources of cruelty and distance, I think. And when the pain is passed onto the next person, is it any surprise when some of those people no longer wish to walk along the path with you or stop along it to reflect along-side you? Is it any surprise that when you throw your stones at the waters, those who seek that stillness and quiet will seek out calmer waters elsewhere?
No. It is terrible, but it is no surprise.
And so, I believe, I think it’s better to at least be capable of keeping our own waters calm, from time to time. When we lose that reflection for too long, it’s quite likely that we are contributing to the lack of stillness. It is quite possible that we are distracting ourselves with noise and motion, and we cannot see ourselves or each other.
I hope that I can more often find that stillness, calm, and the wisdom that comes with it. It’s hard, so very hard, in the turbulent water in with I now swim, but the storm is no longer raging and I’m finding more and more of myself being reflected back by momentary facets of the increasingly calm waters.
When one is focusing on quieting and calming the mind in order to allow those reflective waters to present ourselves and those closest to us, only the truly malicious can continue to harm. I am many things, many of them unflattering to the image I would wish to reflect, but maliciousness is not one of them.
But I have seen maliciousness. I have seen the face of (at least) one person who, in the calmness and quiet, sleeps well despite the fact that the water around him is only still because he has just drowned the flailing victim who insisted upon threatening his contentedness. So long as I never become that, I can be content that my mistakes can be healed.
A prayer (or, at least, a meditation)
Allow me to offer a sort-of prayer to myself, there being no ultimate authority upon whom’s lap I can lay such an entreaty.
Let me not conflate those unworthy and empty souls with those who have been undeserved second-hand bearers of my own pain. Let me not mistake those who are deserving of criticism and pity with those who, in short, are not. Let me not follow my path thinking that I am solely harmed, when I too have acted deservingly of criticism within the bounds of my own will and capability.
Let my preferences, perspectives, and limitation not be the gravitational center of narratives which I retell further down my path. Let the mistakes lie where they are, and not add flavor or putrid nourishment to the future of my narrative past. Let not the story I tell myself, my very consciousness and self, becomes embedded in pretty lies. Let others spin their narratives as they will; I can only hope that such predators will eventually be seen for what they are.
Finally, let me finally be able to love myself, whether or not other people hate me, smear my name, leave me, or stand beside me. My pain will not rule me forever, and my fear will no longer be my mind killer. Only when I can truly love myself can I love others well and accept their love.
I get closer, every day, to that abstract and unreal goal. There is no perfection or completeness in such a journey; only the path, one step at a time. May I always remember that while only death is the end to such a journey, at each moment I have arrived at myself, and that’s a pretty great place to be.
Growth: the result of challenged insecurities and fears February 18, 2009Posted by shaunphilly in religion, atheism, polyamory, culture.
Tags: challenge, criticism, fear, growth, insecurity, maturity, respect
The longer we go in not challenging ourselves and others, the longer we will continue to live in a world that will crawling towards progress.
We are weak, insecure, fearful, and habitual people. I speak primarily of Americans, because that’s the culture I live in, but I think it is true everywhere to some extent. We are afraid of challenging the mythological assumptions of the world around us. Most believe that faith is good, monogamy is the default, and that success is more important than integrity. We believe these things because the structure of the culture that dominates the world is populated by people that were taught these things and perpetuate these things. Thus, in some perverted sense, they are practically true because they are tradition.
But what is the basis for these beliefs? How many times have I heard that to not believe in something, to simply believe that the world in blind processes without the faith in a god, some paradise, or at least some ultimate meaning, then life is not worth living. Fucking bullshit.
People believe such things because they have never challenged themselves to actually think about this seriously. People are emotionally attached to their beliefs, and so their is a kind of pain when some fact, idea, etc comes to mind that contradicts their worldview. More common is the cognitive dissonance that arises in people who accept contradictory ideas.
Then there are the insecure, lazy, and ignorant hypocrites of the world;
Sunday Christians (those that really are only god-fearing at church, and otherwise don’t give a rats ass except when they meet an atheist). You have never really challenged yourself to figure out what you might really believe if you looked at the claims of your religion. You rely on the support group of the others around you (many of which are using you for the same thing), and have probably never even read your holy book.
Monogamous couples who cheat. You know very well that you want more people in your life sexually, and most even still love their spouses. Yet when you are asked what is wrong with polyamory you say it’s wrong, unnatural, or “not for me.” When you say it’s not for you, you mean its not for your partner, or that you don’t have the guts to open yourself up to the jealousy and insecurity that come with thinking about sharing yourself and your loved ones. Yes, there are some people who just make poor choices and really aren’t into being poly, but I think that a lot more of you out there are just scared, insecure, and fearful of the concept of you not being enough for someone else.
The worst part is that we don’t talk about these things. Religion and politics. Ok, sex too, at least insofar as challenging the fantasy of the soul-mate or the “one for me” mythology; the things that we are not supposed to talk about. Bullshit. The only reason that is true is because when we do, we expose the insecurities and fears of those that refuse to challenge themselves. We tell ourselves that we do it out of respect, but respect for what; Insecurity and fear?
Stop allowing your fears, as well as the fears of those around you, from preventing these discussions. Challenging the worldviews of people we disagree with (hopefully after honestly considering your own position), is how we can help our culture grow out of this insecure and fear-ridden infancy.
Grow up, and help the world around you grow up.