I’ve been reading that pretty much everyone, when asked, can provide a personal life-narrative that sums up or provides the gist of who we are as individuals. Apparently, usually, these personal stories are arrived at after the fact, post-hoc, and are largely fictions we construct in order, I guess, to have something to tell those who wish to know us better. Or something.
Well, maybe our stories aren’t total fiction but they are likely to be exaggerations, elaborations and/or simplifications that we deem make us appear better and more empathetic to those we wish to impress. So, anyway, this has me thinking about what my own story might look like if I were totally honest. How honest would I be in spelling it all out?
The thing is, next to every experience I can recall that puts me in a pretty good light there exists, in the shadows, an embarrassment, something I would prefer not to share no matter how much sympathy it might elicit. When I think about my childhood relationships with my peers, the challenges of reaching adulthood, what I’ve learned along the way, accomplishments, deficiencies overcome…..or not, I think it might be best to avoid offering a personal narrative at all. Those who are put off by my reticence will just have to find someone else to be touchy-feely with.
I’m being led to understand, these days, that there are certain innate values within the human genome that when melded with cultural norms pretty much define irrevocably who we are (not discounting the onward march of evolutionary change).
Tendencies toward care for others, loyalty to our own, recognition of higher authority and above all the deep-seeded need to seek out and find sanctity are so deeply innate that reasoned explanation, reliance on an exclusive rationality as ultimate explanation for how and what things are can be embraced only by those who fight off what we innately feel to be true. And, further, such vehement denial of one’s true self isolates from the sort of social cohesion necessary for anyone to reach beyond ego and be truly open and happy.
Being a fairly private individual myself and always having been kind of averse to group bonding of any sort I found these ideas required a bit of thought. Initially the saccharine notion of sitting around a campfire singing Kum ba yah came to mind. But then I realized there were groups of more or less like-minds that I more or less fit into. And that I found the interactions (usually sports related) with these groups rewarding and important parts of my life, really, which makes me think the conception of some sort of innate need for social bonding is probably accurate. I still wince at the thought of singing Kum ba yah though.
I’ve been reading, lately, a treatise by a moral psychologist who claims pretty much everyone lies, cheats and steals. Apparently most all of us have such a deeply-held, innate self-interest that, given the opportunity, dishonesty is inevitable.
Excuses made to avoid an unwanted invitation are likely to be lies. We do this, I guess, because we all want to be well-thought of and it’s pretty clear unremitting truth will make anyone pretty unpopular. And when it comes to cheating, laws are set up such that everyone who drives a car will inevitably cheat in some way, at least in terms of speed limits. As far as theft goes, ‘borrowing’ items from one’s workplace, even if justified as improving one’s work efficiency is never the less stealing.
So, as I think about it I guess I have to admit I fit the profile. I can claim, I suppose, I do no grievous harm to any individual. I do have to admit, though, I’m a liar, cheat and thief. The worst of it is I still think I’m a pretty good person.
As abrasive, ugly and, I guess, pretty comical public debate has become these days maybe it’s time to extol the virtues of the high energy levels our contentious philosophical exchanges generate. However distasteful, things are certainly better than the political structures in other parts of the world that are inclined to censor oppositional views of any sort (that couldn’t happen here, could it?).
Still, I have to question motivations sometimes. I’m afraid rather than championing fairness and what’s best for all, it appears, often, folks’ primary concerns center on me and mine, my own situation and how it measures up to what I see around me; seems like arrested development sometimes; a perpetual adolescence.
The 19th century philosopher John Stuart Mill reminds us that in any debate, both positions will contain a certain degree of truth; issues are never simply black and white. So, it’s up to us all, I guess, to try to make reasonable sense of the oppositional view rather than mindlessly rely on logical fallacies, strawman simplifications and ad hominem put-downs to bind us with our allies and reinforce what we wish to be the right and only view.
As I contemplate these ideas I’m fully aware of my own complicity, my own inclination to jump on my preferred band wagon, you know, thumb my nose at the opposition. But, at least it gets my blood pumping, raises the old energy level; better than wasting away in lethargy ville I suppose.
I’ve been reading that despite the nature vs. nurture debate it’s likely that a moral sense is innate in us all, the result of evolutionary selection dictating an inherent need we share to bond with our fellows. According to the late James Q. Wilson, even the most hardened, egregious individual has a modicum of moral sensitivity. Granted, there are other factors affecting a person’s behavior, self-interest leading to greed among them, but in the deepest recesses of our psyches we need positive human relationships; we are social animals and this fact leads us to desire to do right by others.
I know, as we look at those around us and perceive what appears to be a generally accepted moral relativity, an innate moral sense seems somewhat counter-intuitive. But, even tiny infants exhibit sympathy and practice fairness through sharing. Given the divisive nature of the world we live in perhaps we all need to become a little more child-like; offer a friendly smile and pat on the head, maybe even a hug to the next person we meet. What’s the worst that could happen; other than legal action?
I’ve been reading that the idea of ‘time flow’ might be an illusion. According to some theoretical physicists time is maybe better thought of as a series of ‘instants’. On this theory, past, present and future are meaningless; all ‘instants’ exist within a block of time. ‘Now’ is a timeless instant that is recorded in memory, but as it distances from ‘now’, dissipates as it is retired to deeper recesses of the mind or is moved deeper toward the blocks periphery.
In such a perspective a loved one’s death doesn’t mean non-existence but is comparable to the existence of someone living far away, beyond communication lines. And, me blowing out candles at my 10th birthday party is just as real and in existence as me writing this right now.
As Dan Falk, in the book, In Search of Time, points out, psychologically, linguistically, we are so locked into a flowing time, block time is pretty counter-intuitive to real life experience. Still, I bet those inclined toward religious practice might kind of like the idea.
I’ve been reading and thinking about fanaticism, how and why it arises and the forms it takes. The idea can certainly be thought of in terms of most any passionate belief, but most often, I think, it is thought of in terms of religion.
At some point in the development of the human intellect belief in some sort of supernatural entity was a given; it defined a singular reality. But, as the mind evolved toward reasoned thought, belief in nature spirits gave way to religion, with its requisite doctrinal, dogmatic and political implications, which in turn led to skepticism. Beliefs came to a fork in the road and took it. As beliefs grew further and further apart, fanaticism reared its ugly head; people at opposite extremes being absolutely certain about things no one can be absolutely certain of. Unfortunately, this seems to be the place where humankind presently resides.
I guess a lot of people like to grasp certainty and then not think about it too much anymore. It would be good, wouldn’t it, if everyone put a little energy into questioning? You know, questioning what we can truly know, questioning the efficacy of our chosen beliefs, questioning the legitimacy of our op positional stances. Wouldn’t the resulting cooperation override the necessity of blind faith?
Apparently there is an aspect of Quantum Theory called retro-causality which suggests that something could be done in the future that would affect what occurred in the past; something you could do now that would change what happened then.
It all has to do with sub-atomic particle ‘entanglements’; apparently, simply observing one of an entangled pair changes the nature of the other one which alters what was a micro-second ago. Extrapolating from this brings into focus an idea sci-fi writers have been exploiting for decades: time travel. While some theoretical physicists are pretty sure time travel can’t happen I have to wonder: as I was passing a local elementary school recently, a question on the school’s electronic poster board asked: Do you have a student in Kindergarten next year? Any definitive answer to that question would suggest there are, indeed, people living in the future.
I’ve been thinking about what the concept of progress means these days. I’m pretty sure that, from a materialistic standpoint it has something to do with economic growth: increased consumption to drive increased production to hire more workers to then increase consumption; seems pretty circular and pretty unconcerned about depleting the earth’s finite resources.
My inclination is to see progress more in terms of a bigger picture that has to do with mutual respect for each other and our environment. I really thought we were moving in that direction but recent events have truly shaken that belief. I thought pluralism and tolerance for others was being widely embraced. Sure, there are pockets of reactionary dissidence, even dangerous terroristic hostility, but I really thought that most of us were on the same page, you know, as far as mutual respect for social and cultural differences.
It’s hard not to fall into pessimism, even though I know large numbers of people think as I do. I guess it may be time to take things more seriously, take to the streets, I suppose; shout from the roof tops. And in emulation of our new president I’ve decided not to pay my taxes this year. Who’s with me?
I guess it’s pretty clear there are those among us who presume moral entitlement, whose imagined self-worth provides them the impetus to butt into lines, swerve dangerously through traffic, and, generally, push off the stage those they find to be in the way of their selfish desires. Depending on the degree to which such people imagine their superiority, their behavior may range from petty annoyances to total disregard for the welfare of those around them.
I’ve been reading that there is evidence to suggest egregious behavior of this sort is becoming more and more common and that it threatens to undermine the values necessary to maintain a cooperative, free society. Cooperation all too often depends on realization of personal benefit. The idea of acting in the interests of mutual benefit for all, of equality and justice, is waning, no longer a viable concept for some.
I guess our capitalistic notions of ‘working hard to get ahead’, which certainly accounts for much good being accomplished, can get out control sometimes, a bit too dog eat dog, blinds some people to the true values of mutual well-being.
I’m going to start thinking more about mankind’s common entitlement to a reasonably happy and content existence, maybe spend some time working toward a more just distribution of resources. Maybe I’ll invite the neighbors over for tea.