A necessary lie

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Nihilist                     -                    Totalitarian
Pragmatist                -                    Realist
Relative                    -                   Absolute 
Complex                  -                    Simple
Poly                          -                    Mono
Centrifugal               -                    Centripetal
Destruction               -                    Conservation


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All things are so very uncertain. And that’s exactly what makes me feel reassured.

[Too-Ticky]
Moominland Midwinter


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We must build structures and believe them - believe that they are solid, real, and 'true' - yet at the same time we must also be aware that they are transitory, illusory, and - in the the last - only 'true-enough'.

This dilemma has been referred to as 'the Divine Paradox': we must act as if things are absolute, whilst knowing that they are, in fact, only relative. We must play a game, and believe in it enough to play it well; whilst never forgetting that it is, when all is said and done, only a game.

If we believe too much in the solidity of things then we become dogmatic, fundamentalist, totalitarian; we stiffen up, all of our pores close, and we become unable to tolerate - let alone assimilate - new information. We believe in one meaning, one God; and to hell with all the others. We become as certain as statues; rooted and immobile.

Totalitarianism can be characterised by a pathological need to conserve, or hold-together.

If we believe too little then we become skeptical, pessimistic, nihilstic; we become formless, because all form is a lie. Nothing can stick to us, or even touch us. We believe in no meanings, no God (or gods); and to hell with everyone.We become as uncertain as the breeze, unable to connect to anyone, or anything.

Nihilism can be characterised by a pathological need to destroy, or break-apart.

Beneath our structures lies an endless sea of complexity. It is the place from which all structures emerge, and into which all structures return. To glimpse this complexity can cause us intolerable anxiety, and so we may choose to shelter within the safety of our sanctuary and avoid looking outside.

But sometimes a wave comes crashing over our walls, and bursts through our doors; and we're faced with a decision: sink or swim?

Realism is a way station on the route to totalitarianism. The realist insists that there are 'truths' out there; that they stand like monoliths, strong, tall and indifferent to what we may think of them. The realist understands the danger of the sea, but believes that there is such a thing as solid ground; and that if we are diligent enough we can map out these dry places, and live upon them; and moreso, that if only we can build our structures well enough - seal up all openings and make them watertight - that we need never fear the crashing waves or the monsters of the deep. The realist likes dry places, and strong walls.

Pragmatism is a way station on the line to nihilism. Whilst the pragmatist may value his structures, he always has an ear tuned to the sea that roils and roars beyond his boundaries. He does not literalize his structures, believing that even the most impressive monument is, in the last, no more than a castle made of sand. He does not, therefore, believe in objective truths; preferring instead to think of truth as a subjective agreement; as the point of overlap between multiple views. The pragmatist likes damp places, and permeable boundaries.

The realist chooses to believe that there is a wizard, and that he is all-powerful and in control; whereas the pragmatist pulls aside the curtain and reveals the necessary lie - that the wizard is only human, that he has little power; and that what power there is, lies within all of us; and that what sanctuary there is, exists because we create it.

And so here is the tightrope on which we find ourselves: we cannot live in the sea, and so must build our structures; and to build them well we must, to a degree, believe in what we are doing - after all, those that play the game best are those to whom it isn't 'just a game.' Yet we must also never lose sight of the fact that we are, in the last, only playing; we must never take ourselves, or our creations, too seriously.

But is it possible to believe in the wizard once his secret has been revealed? Perhaps the secret, like all esoteric knowledge, is only intended for certain ears.


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The neo-Freudian cultural anthropologist Ernest Becker […] believed that the emergence of self-consciousness rendered the individual’s existential position in the world permanently intolerable.

The individual aware of his or her mortal limitation has to hide from reality:

“I believe that those who speculate that a full apprehension of man’s condition would drive him insane are right, quite literally right.... Who wants to face up fully to the creatures that we are, clawing and gasping for breath in a universe beyond our ken? ... Everything that man does in his symbolic world is an attempt to deny and overcome his grotesque fate.”

Becker therefore presumed that human character was of necessity a “vital lie ... a necessary and basic dishonesty about oneself and one’s whole situation” […]

[…] Becker realized that there was something pathological about such “necessary” and “inevitable” dishonesty; knew that the trivialization of reality came at the cost of dignity and self-respect. He believed that too much exposure to reality produced an intolerable chaos, that too little produced a narrow and unbearable restriction, and that the middle ground constituted a form of far-from-admirable but perhaps necessary “philistinism” [...]

Becker was therefore finally sceptical of the benefits of psychotherapy, in general (“psychology as self-knowledge is self-deception, because it does not give what men want, which is immortality. Nothing could be plainer”) [...]

This sophisticated neo-psychoanalyst saw the world, finally, as a place of existential catastrophe, from which human beings are protected by a shield of religious and ideological delusion – the delusion being first that life has some transcendent and ultimate value and second that human beings, qualitatively different from mere animals, somehow partake in that value.

[Jordan B. Peterson]
‘Complexity Management Theory: Motivation for Ideological Rigidity and Social Conflict’, in Cortex, December 2002, p. 429-30


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Our lack of "essence" or preordained structure, our "nothingness," leads us to crave solidity. We are, you could say, whirlwinds who wish they were rocks.

We cling to things in the hopes that they will provide us with a certain "weight." We try to turn our loved ones into things by demanding that they not change, or we try to change them into perfect partners, not realizing that a statue, though it may live forever, has no love to give us.

[C. George Boeree]
'Towards a Buddhist Psychotherapy'


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While to THE INFINITE ALL, the Universe, its Laws, its Powers, its Life, its Phenomena, are as things witnessed in the state of Meditation or Dream; yet to all that is Finite, the Universe must be treated as Real, and life, and action, and thought, must be based thereupon, accordingly, although with an ever understanding of the Higher Truth.

Under any hypothesis the Universe in its outer aspect is changing, ever-flowing, and transitory — and therefore devoid of substantiality and reality.

But (note the other pole of the truth) under any of the same hypotheses, we are compelled to act and live as if the fleeting things were real and substantial.

Were THE ALL to imagine that the Universe were indeed Reality, then woe to the Universe, for there would be then no escape from lower to higher, divineward–then would the Universe become a fixity and progress would become impossible.

And if Man, owing to half-wisdom, acts and lives and thinks of the Universe as merely a dream (akin to his own finite dreams) then indeed does it so become for him, and like a sleep-walker he stumbles ever around and around in a circle, making no progress, and being forced into an awakening at last by his falling bruised and bleeding over the Natural Laws which he ignored.

Keep your mind ever on the Star, but let your eyes watch over your footsteps, lest you fall into the mire by reason of your upward gaze.

Remember the Divine Paradox, that while the Universe IS NOT, still IT IS. Remember ever the Two Poles of Truth– the Absolute and the Relative. Beware of Half-Truths

The Kybalion, Chapter VI: "The Divine Paradox"


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Related posts:-
All is Change
Everything and Nothing
Escaping Uncertainty
Taking the Rough with the Smooth
The Dangers of Dogmatism
Sailing the Turbulent Seas
Do Not Disturb  

Complexity

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Complex                  -                    Simple
Chaos                       -                   Logos
Liquid                       -                    Solid
Change                     -                    Permanence
Unknown                 -                    Known
Imperfect                  -                    Perfect
Earth                        -                    Heavens
Matter                       -                    Pattern
Mother                      -                    Father
Man                          -                    God
Death                        -                    Birth 

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We can only make sense of a fraction of the information that constantly presents itself to us. The stability of the sense that we make is therefore fragile. Our models of experience are limited, incomplete, and chronically prone to failure.

Our essential existential problem [can be] conceptualized as vulnerability to complexity [...]

 […] we are engineers, more than scientists. When we explore, we try to find out what operations work, more than what things are. In fact, we can not find out what things “are,” because they are too complex. We constantly strive, instead, to determine how the difficult and finally incomprehensible circumstances currently obtaining might be bent more effectively towards fulfillment of our biologically-grounded ends.

[…] we will make mistakes (because we do not understand everything, and because things we do “understand” change) and […] whenever we make a mistake, we encounter what we have not properly categorized and are presently ignoring (since, had we categorized it, and properly paid attention to it, we would not have made a mistake).

[…] This “revenge of the unjustly ignored” immediately and thoroughly complicates our simple functional worlds.

George Kelly (1955) first hinted at the uncomfortable relationship we all hold with complexity […] insisting that human beings had an arbitrary, essential, unequivocal desire to be right – right once and for all, without question.

[…] belief regulates and constrains complexity

[…] Individuals are therefore motivated to maintain the structure of their belief systems, because those belief systems are painfully constructed abstracted patterns of action, designed to meet desired motivational ends, in a world complex and anxiety-provoking beyond understanding.

[…] we need to invert our understanding of anxiety, and come to understand it as our default position in the world; come to understand it as something painstakingly brought under partial control, in consequence of effortful learning, and not something added through learning to a normative background of calm competence and security.

[…] the tendency to remain ideologically committed to a given position (associated with failure to explore and update in the face of anomaly) is also motivated by the desire to maintain the current superstructure of belief and tradition, in the face of evidence that a currently-unspecifiably-large portion of it has been rendered dangerously and troublesomely invalid [...]

Events that indicate error in the pursuit of goals are negatively valenced, but informative. Ideologically rigid individuals sacrifice new and potentially useful information […] to avoid short-term negative emotion.

Ideological rigidity is therefore the tendency to avoid emotionally and cognitively-demanding exploration and information-gathering, subsequent to the receipt of an error message, in the interests of maintaining short-term emotional security. 

This makes totalitarianism of belief something that may be indulged in by default, so to speak – a sin of omission – and something that is potently reinforced, negatively, in the short term. This combination of ease and emotional relief might help explain the widespread prevalence of rigid, maladaptive belief.

Dogmatic certainty is a condition that may be thoughtlessly and carelessly indulged in – a condition that lurks constantly as a temptation, as a second-rate alternative to the travail of authentic adaptation.


It is necessary for us to generate simplified, functional models, in order to function in situations constantly beyond our understanding. However, this process of simplified functional modeling can be pathologized by individuals who are unwilling to allow any unconstrained complexity whatsoever to exist – pathologized, that is, by the existential cowards who make ideological purity the hallmark of existence.

What Becker and the neo-Freudians describe as death terror can be more accurately conceptualized as a priori fear of unconstrained complexity.

[Jordan B. Peterson]
‘Complexity Management Theory: Motivation for Ideological Rigidity and Social Conflict’, in Cortex, December 2002, p. 431-2, 440, 444,  450-1, 454-5



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The ego refers to the means of organizing the conscious mind. The ego selects those perceptions, thoughts, memories, and feelings that will become conscious.

The organizational structure of the ego provides a sense of identity and day-to-day continuity so that individuals are not a mass of random conscious and unconscious perceptions, thoughts, and feelings.

By screening out great amounts of unconscious material (memories, thoughts, and feelings), the ego attempts to achieve a sense of coherence and consistency, while at the same time being an expression of individuality.

[Richard S. Scharf]
Theories of Psychotherapy and Counseling: Concepts and Cases (2nd Edition), p.91


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You should move to a small town, somewhere the rule of law still exists. You will not survive here. You are not a wolf, and this is a land of wolves now.

['Alejandro']
Dialogue from the film 'Sicario'


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Related posts:-
All is Change
Escaping Uncertainty
Taking the Rough with the Smooth
The Dangers of Dogmatism
Sailing the Turbulent Seas
Do Not Disturb 
This, not That

A room full of mirrors

Blanket advertising - the idea that a hundred million people receive the same piece of direct mail, the same television advert, the same digital advert - is dead. My children will certainly never understand this concept of mass communication.

Today communication is becoming ever increasingly targeted; its being individualised for every single person […]

So you will no longer be receiving adverts on products and services that you don’t care about, rather you’ll only receive adverts that not only are on the products and services - or in the case of elections, issues - that you care about most, but that have been nuanced in order to reflect the way that you see the world.

[Alexander Nix]
The Power of Big Data and Psychographics

From one extreme to another?

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Liquid                      -                    Solid
Progressive              -                    Conservative
Chaos                       -                    Order
Surface                     -                    Depth
Unlimited                 -                    Limited
Sky                           -                    Ground


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In 1958 I wrote the following:

'There are no hard distinctions between what is real and what is unreal, nor between what is true and what is false. A thing is not necessarily either true or false; it can be both true and false.'

I believe that these assertions still make sense and do still apply to the exploration of reality through art. So as a writer I stand by them but as a citizen I cannot. 

As a citizen I must ask: What is true? What is false?

[Harold Pinter]
Nobel Lecture, 'Art, Truth & Politics'


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In this post I talked about the idea of exclusion, and made the case that exclusion is inherent in creation. In other words, whenever a thing comes into being (be it an physical object, or a mental construct), it does so by not being all of the other things it could have been. From a chaotic multitude, certain characteristics are selected and this collection of elements constitutes the thing in question. An order, or direction, is imposed.

You are tall and not short; you like quiet places rather than busy ones; you are Left and not Right: creation is a process of narrowing down; from all possibilities, to these ones.

All structures are made from constituent parts; including and bonding separate elements into something greater (if it is a healthy structure it will be coherent, i.e. its parts will follow a common set of instructions; if it is unhealthy, it will be incoherent). In this sense, structure is also synonymous with ‘story,’ ‘category,’ ‘group,’ ‘identity,’ and so on. Any ‘thing’ that you can think of will be composed of other ‘things’. Any ‘thing’ has borders, and defends its borders. A borderless ‘thing’ is no ‘thing’ at all.

From this it follows that any structure, by its nature, is exclusive; that exclusion is a vital element in how we build structures. A thing is this thing because it is not every other thing. You are who you are because of your preferences, the things that you say ‘yes’ and ‘no’ to; that you include and exclude.

However, exclusion is not a fashionable word these days, which is one of the reasons why I feel it important to assert its value. It is a vital part of a balance, and as such has a crucial role to play in how we apprehend the world.

Postmodern culture - that is, the culture that more or less predominates at the minute - arose in part as a reaction to too much structure. It is accordingly characterised by the urge to break structure down, and was crystallised in the philosophy known as post-structuralism, espoused by the likes of Jacques Derrida and Gilles Deleuze (if you look at the binary at the top of this page, then postmodernism is characterised by those words on the left hand side).

At its heart, postmodernism is opposed to any form of categorization (i.e. structure-building) because categorizing excludes, limits, and separates. Its god is Hermes, the shapeshifter; he who dances from here to there but never stays put; never puts down roots. Like quicksilver, he refuses form, and eludes all categories.

Postmodernism started life as a reactionary movement; a tugging on the pendulum of culture, a pendulum that had swung, in the eyes of many, too far in one direction. But like any reactionary movement, it was inherently imbalanced. In order to counteract the prevailing trends of the day it took an oppositional stance: inasmuch as white was the shade of the establishment, it clothed itself entirely in black.

And this is the crucial point. By defining itself in opposition to what had gone before it threw the baby out with the bathwater. A balanced approach would have been to combine the best of black, and the best of white; to have recognised that to deny either is pathological; and to have made gray the shade-de-jour. Yes, the pendulum must always swing, but it needn’t go to  extremes. Swinging from one extreme to another is the characteristic pattern of the manic-depressive; and as most manic-depressives would attest, it may be fun from time to time (jet-black and snow-white are much sexier than shades of gray), but it is also unsustainable and destructive. If a healthy society is truly what we desire then we must seek homeostasis, the temperate middle path.

The postmodernist mindset fell in love with one side of the opposition - became enamoured with black - and pushed the other side into the darkness. It placed emphasis on those concepts that were associated with a lack of structure - ‘fluidity,’ ‘inclusion,’ ‘relativism’ - whilst devaluing those associated with structure - ‘solidity,’ ‘exclusion,’ ‘absolutism.’ In other words, it repressed a whole section of human experience.

Its an irony of postmodernism that in consciously denying these elements it condemned itself to unconsciously enact them: witness, for instance, its moral absolutism, or its exclusion in the name of inclusion ('no-platforming,' 'safe-spaces'). Repressed elements will always find a way to the surface, generally emerging as symptoms, or pathology; as blind spots, or sore spots. Accordingly, our cultural landscape is becoming increasingly pathologized. Disturbing data points are cropping up all over the place; chattering, doubting voices assail the postmodern psyche. A split is occurring.

How the prevailing order deals with these symptoms is of crucial importance to us all. We are facing another pendulum shift, and the critical question is whether we will once again swing into another imbalance; whether we will heed the lessons of our time, or whether we will again, in our disgust at the current way of things, attempt to repress one side of the balance in favour of the other.

I'm writing this as a reminder to myself as much as anyone else, because at times like this it is always tempting to vilify the old and make heroes of the new; to raise the qualities of the incoming order whilst denouncing those of the outgoing. But in vilifying one side of the balance we also make a villain of the corresponding aspect of ourselves. Collective repression goes hand in hand with individual repression. As a result we're unable to see that the villain isn't really a villain at all; that, as unfashionable as he may now be, he still has many positive qualities, and many important things to share.

It is vital that we retain the positive aspects of postmodernism, and do not, in our haste to distance ourselves from it, reject it outright. 

This would be an immature reaction, a knee-jerk venting of pent-up emotion. Whilst it may have gone too far, it was not all in vain. Nor is it now irrelevant. And its proponents are not, for the most part, villains.

It has been said that evolution works by transcending and including. If we are to evolve then we must find a way to include what came before and to integrate it into something greater, rather than seeking to erase it from our memory.

It is becoming ever more clear that we must begin to allow to the surface those things that postmodernism has held under for so long. We must begin to accept the importance of structure, and all of its analogs (limits, exclusion, solidity, fixity). But in doing so we must resist the temptation to make virtues of these elements at the expense of their counterparts.

After an excess of one thing, its opposite will always seem disproportionately appealing; but we must keep our heads; and keep our eyes on both sides of the balance.

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Related posts:-
Land and Sea
Exclusion
Life Amongst the Rubble
The Perils of Radical Subjectivity 
Forever Becoming
The Real Thing
Walk a Straight Line