Link Dump

It sounds inelegant, and it is. Let the dumping begin.



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>> Dave Pollard (How to Save the World) has made his move to Canada and is realigning his life. Several recent posts have spoken to or for me, including this one on Civilization Disease. He diagnoses civilised peoples with a dis-ease that is caused by: adult humiliation when child behaviour is non-conforming, “relentless ‘normalizing’ propaganda,” a “competition-based education system” and work system, and a consumer-focused model of scarcity. Obviously, it’s not just postmoderns that suffer from this dis-ease but people throughout the centuries, as long as civilisation has been in the business of normalising, i.e., from the start. There is a religious aspect to normalising propaganda that dovetails in my thoughts with Girardian ideas, with mimetic theory and the idea that rampant societal violence is always held at bay by ‘lesser’ violence.

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>> Introverts in the Church at Experimental Theology hits the nail on the head:  In some churches, “there is an implicit theological theme that marries sociability with spirituality. That is, being sociable — visiting intensively, and being willing to ‘get into each other’s lives’ — is highly prized. … But introverts fare poorly in these sociable churches. The demand to visit, mix, and share with strangers taxes them. Worse, given that these social activities are declared to be ‘spiritual,’ the introvert feels morally judged and spiritually marginalized. As if their very personality was spiritually diseased. … Now, you may say that these introverts just aren’t good people. But you would be wrong. Introverts are very, very relational. They just aren’t sociable.

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>> I like these images at Silke’s blog, Metamorphosis. Reminder to self: do this.

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>> The Asian Elephant Art and Conservation Project. I like Sela’s art in particular.

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>> Is Your Brain a Communist? at Neuroskeptic offers some slight additional confirmation of another  hypothesis of mimetic theory: in relationships, groups and society as a whole, we try to reciprocate equally in order to avoid conflict. (Often, however, reciprocity only leads to greater conflict.)

I agree with Neuroskeptic that equalising actions among people can be explained by “concerns for social image or reciprocity.” In fact, I think they are. I think we know, as inculcated civilised beings raised in culture, that we risk violence when we fail to reciprocate or when we reciprocate inappropriately, and so we strive to give and take in proportion, and we often cloak the reciprocity, or time-delay it, to avoid direct comparisons and measurements that could prove dangerous (“I gave you an item of x value, and now you’re giving me an item of x-5 value?? wtf?” or “I gave her a $25 gift card and she’s given me a $50 gift card. Yikes!”). We call this quid pro quo, tit for tat, Christmas.

We tend to break this rule only within ritualised settings, like Yankee swaps, where people are ‘free’ to take a better gift and give someone else a crappy one; and yet, in practice, few people do this, even within the ritual, or if they do it, they apologise profusely and try to equalise the imbalanced reciprocity in another concrete or abstract way, inside the ritual or outside it.

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>> I like John Stephens’ guideposts. They seem well-chosen words. In particular, “mind the Light,” “concrete action to answer human needs, challenge evil, and build resilience” and “Enjoy bread, laughter, and the horizon.” I like “challenge” rather than something like overcome, fight, smite. I like “the horizon” for its ambiguity. Nice.

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>> Emotional Communion through E-Mail Forwarding?: “Will You Be E-Mailing This Column? It’s Awesome” by John Tierney (8 Feb 2010). Several explanations given for why people prefer to e-mail “articles with positive rather than negative themes” and “long articles on intellectually challenging topics.”  I think they hit the nail on the head, for me anyway, with this one:

“If I’ve just read this story that changes the way I understand the world and myself, I want to talk to others about what it means. I want to proselytize and share the feeling of awe. If you read the article and feel the same emotion, it will bring us closer together.”

Stated one way, it’s seeking emotional communion; stated another, it’s solidifying ego-identification and seeking ego-affirmation. Just like my saying “I like this” in a blog post. Or posting in the first place.

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>> In The Comforting Notion of An All-Powerful Enemy, Tom Jacobs looks at the pacifying role of the scapegoat (vilified as evil and deified as all-powerful) in popular discourse:

“This tendency to exaggerate the strength of our adversaries serves a specific psychological function. It is less scary to place all our fears on a single, strong enemy than to accept the fact our well-being is largely based on factors beyond our control. An enemy, after all, can be defined, analyzed and perhaps even defeated.”

Bingo. Of course, this also meshes strongly with Girardian thought, but my comment here is personal and only philosophical in a writ-small way.

I’ve thought about this a lot in light not just of political and social discourse (Jacobs’ main concern)  but also in light of the way we talk about and try to manage cancer, and disease and death in general.  We talk about fighting and struggling, losing a battle or winning a fight. We talk about disease as an alien invader — but cancer isn’t an alien, it’s our own cells, our own Jungian shadow side perhaps, which could be incorporated (that great word again) into the whole; and mortality is built into us ab initio. Maybe disease and death are not the powerful enemies we fear.

And this is related, I think: When it’s suggested to me that a particular doctor — or other expert,  like a lawyer or realtor, but especially a doctor — may be incompetent or not well-qualified, or the hospital may not be that good, and so we should look for another, better one, I find that I react with a sort of psychic exhaustion. I’m not sure, but I think that what these well-intentioned suggestions, borne of true concern, actually suggest to me  is that there is always a way to prevent or circumvent disaster, death, “bad things” — if we just tried harder, researched more, applied ourselves more, put a little more effort into it, or did SOMEthing different and better.

I know that my reaction could be simple resistance to diving back into the morass, doing more research, making more difficult decisions whose consequences I can’t fully know, risking conflict by changing a current situation that may not be optimal but has an equilibrium about it. I don’t want to stay in a bad situation simply because it’s easy. I know the statistics that show that people, while they may bewail politics or medicine in general, are in large numbers perfectly happy with their particular politician or doctor. It’s a bias borne of the pain that cognitive dissonance causes us.

On the other hand, there are so many intangibles, intuitions and emotions, and unknowns that go into our choices, including selecting or accepting doctors, and our well-being is, IMO, largely based on factors outside our control (anathema in this age of affirmations, I know) that I no longer believe, most of the time, that what I chose has much bearing on what happens. I still think choices matter, intensely, but not for their outcomes.

So the implicit suggestion that I can avert disasters — whether small ones like selling our house for less than it’s worth, or paying more in taxes than necessary, or big ones like suffering longer or dying earlier than otherwise — by doing more, better, faster … seems a convenient truth to me. It feels false, and it tires me, and maybe it tires me also because it is so tempting to believe the control myth, which is ubiquitous in culture, and to resist its message, even passively, requires a lot of energy, day in and day out.

I challenge the researcher’s premise that “‘If you can somehow raise people’s sense that they have control over their lives and negative hazards in the world, their need to ‘enemize’ others should be reduced.'” That seems like a construct to me, a lie scaffolding that leaves us feeling better — until it’s shaken. Maybe a solution, in part, one that will minimise enemising and scapegoating, is the simple awareness that we all have little control over many hazards. The expectation that things will go awry and go awry badly.  Sure, we will still make decisions to minimise hazards (or not), but we might do so with gusto and with awareness that making the best decision is not necessary, or necessarily best.

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>>Have I mentioned that the NyQuil knock-off I am taking for my cold has a hypnotic in it? I didn’t know either until I looked it up. No wonder my dreams are extra wild this week.


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