Consistency, in practice and in thought, guides the creation of our stories and narratives. Selecting from the potentially overwhelming data of the world, our stories support what we believe and ignore or actively dismiss that which doesn’t. “New” information is not something we simply become aware of, but is all around us, happening every moment. This can be as banal and inconsequential as not paying attention to every shift in clouds above us, to the potentially disastrous of not seeing oncoming cars in traffic.
The ability, through story or perspective, to maintain an internal sense of right-ness and consistency is not always in our best interests.
Gilovich found that when gamblers were right, they tended to offer bolstering comments about just how right they were—“I knew it would happen,” or words to that effect. But when they were wrong, they tended to minimize their error by offering “undoing” comments about how the game should have turned out differently. In these cases the gamblers would often blame the outcome on a fluke event, like a fumble in the fourth quarter. To them, a loss wasn’t really a loss; it was a near win. In either case, the effect of the bolstering and undoing comments was largely the same: foresight became better in hindsight. (Halinan)Halinan, Joseph T. “Why We Make Mistakes”
Beyond ignorance or dismissal, we have here a rewrite of the past in a way that is falsely self-positive. Related to this is how we judge behavior we consider ‘wrong’; when the mistake is personal we often point to external circumstance, but when the mistake is someone else’s we direct our vision to the person’s internal failings.
Deeper is the Ocean
An intervention strategy within ACT (Acceptance and Commitment Therapy) is referred to as “Dropping Anchor.” The idea is to take an experience of fusion (an unhealthy preoccupation with a thought/emotion) and mindfully reflect on it while expanding one’s awareness of the physical reality around and within yourself.
The purpose is not to avoid the feeling/thought or even to necessarily change the feeling/thought, but to defuse, broadening awareness to how much more is going on beyond the preoccupation. We are so very much more than any single thought, emotion, or even behavior. Acceptance is about dwelling in this larger reality, not necessarily being ok with any particular thought, emotion or behavior.
Fusion is an inevitable result of the ignorance/dismissal/rewrite processes described above. Selecting pieces of experience to create a self-serving Narrative requires putting oneself contrary to the rest of reality pinging on your mind. The world doesn’t go away simply because we don’t want to see it. The continual avoidance requires a constant doubling-down on one or more pieces of the Narrative, building mental walls that become increasingly isolating.
Importantly here, the personal gain accomplished is not necessarily about feeling better, but having the world make sense. We will put ourselves through a great deal of pain and suffering to avoid having to doubt the way we think of the world and ourselves. That we do this to ourselves is because the alternative, doubt and uncertainty, is considered, sometimes rightly, to be a generator of anxiety and thus greater pain and suffering. Better the devil you know, as the saying goes.
Here is where the Dropping Anchor exercise can run afoul. An anchor, to continue the metaphor, only works well when there’s a ground/bottom to settle on and catch you. In the midst of the ocean, an anchor may not be all that helpful and perhaps even cause further problems as it selects something that won’t keep you stable.
Dropping Anchor can be highly effective both therapeutically and as a technique within a broader meditative practice. Doing so in a healthy manner means remembering why fusion is both inevitable and often perceived as being helpful. Broadening one’s awareness can bring a level of self-reflective skepticism that can be disconcerting, especially if one’s sense of self or an Identity is tied strongly to the fused content.
Healthy, defused living means slipping into that deeper ocean of human potential, but there’s a reason why the lack of waves in a lake is associated so strongly with calm and peace. Exploring the former means acknowledging why the latter is so enticing.
Hallinan, Joseph T.. Why We Make Mistakes: How We Look Without Seeing, Forget Things in Seconds, and Are All Pretty Sure We Are Way Above Average (p. 68). Crown/Archetype.
Political season is well and truly in full swing these days. One can barely find a cute picture of a panda online without bumping into a near-overwhelming number of memes (supportive and derogatory), quotes (false, out of context and sometimes true), and speeches (fervently pro and anti) about various candidates and the positions they likely take. Along for the ride is the “no true scotsman” logical fallacy, being thrown around with great poetic license as if it was the claymore from Braveheart.
This form of personal dismissal in the shape of a logical fallacy is the attempt to hold as sacred, inclusion in a group. As ideologies are the creation of people for the regulation of behavior and maintaining social cohesion, so then any time an ideology exists that is connected to a particular group, there will be variations. Were this a struggle for growth, for helping determine the finer qualities of what it means to follow a particular philosophy or worldview within a multi-faceted world, there’d be much room for praise. Unfortunately, there is often little growth occurring, there is only the quest for managing power through group purity. Rather than engaging with the world and disparate opinions, there is instead the furtherance of the adversarial Us vs Them mentality, and the systematic creation of an increasingly large “Other.”
All identities are limiting, they have to be, as they determine what is and is not bound within a particular scope of selective engagement. We have our physical identities at the biological level so we know what is and is not our bodies. We have family identities so we know who is and is not family, often leading to variations in what is and is not acceptable behavior. We have social and national identities so we know what is and is not aligned with broader interests, often resulting in naming particular behavior as good when if it were done by another would be considered terrible.
Knowing who we are is intimately connected with the group identities we engage in, but by their very nature as mental constructs for limitation, too much focus on one or or another group identity can diminish the exploration of our lives. As Bronowski puts it:
“In our relations with people, and even with animals, we understand their actions and motives because we have at some time shared them, so that we know them from the inside. We know what anger is, we learn an accent or the value of friendship, by directly entering into the experience. And by identifying ourselves with the experience of others, we enlarge our knowledge of ourselves as human beings: we gain self-knowledge.” (Bronowski)
Group identity can be greatly beneficial, regardless of its ideological roots. However, it becomes oppressive when it ceases to engage with new experiences and ways of interpreting even the most sacred of ideological tenets. This oppression lays the groundwork for fundamentalism, a process of exclusion that is not limited to religious movements.
Just the other day, a comment was noted that identified a person’s action as “not being a true liberal.” The current struggle within the Republican party is often characterized as a struggle for the heart of conservatism, as if such has only ever meant one thing. The politics of today is polarized precisely because people have been replaced by ideological purity. Political action is being taken by fewer and fewer people precisely because there is no longer any room for dissent. Instead of seeing how one’s worldview interacts with new information, shelter is found in building up the barriers of our personal bubbles. Instead of scratching at the walls of our echo-chambers to see where growth can occur, any and all cracks are immediately filled in by removing what is deemed contrary.
We cannot build a government for the people and by the people if we do not actively engage in generative dialogue. Generative because it is about generating new ideas from within the old, generative because it sees nuance where adversarial debate sees only steadfast positions. This is not an easy road to pursue, but the result of not doing so will only be walls and barriers, of limiting the totality of human experience to an increasingly smaller set of thoughts and behavior deemed “pure.”
“If we actively engage with an ever-widening array of our potential expressions, we have that much more with which to interact and respond to others and changing circumstances. The reverse is also true, as our reactions to others are keyed to the identities or labels they’re placed under, so how we react to others is contingent upon how varied our view of them is. The political opponent is also a spouse, worker, lover, hobbyist, etc. An expansion of perspective helps everyone.”
© David Teachout
Featured Image: Don’t Belong Here by Alena Beljakova
Bronowski, Jacob (2010-06-30). The Identity of Man (Great Minds Series) (p. 83). Prometheus Books – A. Kindle Edition.
For every act committed there is a set of beliefs in support of it and providing impetus for its fulfillment. Generally speaking we can refer to this set as a “worldview,” a structure of personal perspective. A person’s worldview determines what facts or evidence will be considered legitimate, in that those facts or evidence which support a particular belief within the worldview are and those that don’t, are not. A worldview also provides a funnel for determining, out of all potential behaviors, what will be selected and put into action. At the level of a society, every policy or law is also based on a worldview of how the world is or should be. Sometimes the structure behind a law and that which is held by a person come into conflict.
Living in a country where laws are based on a worldview that is both democratic and, to varying degrees, rational, sets up a system of establishing social policy and the means of its reform. This system requires both 1) generative dialogue and 2) placing truth in the realm of public accessibility. When either of those two pillars is broken or dismissed, then the whole system ceases to be democratic and rational.
Far too often when debate/dialogue occurs, there is simply the lobbing back and forth of interpreted facts. Little attention is made to the underlying assumptions/worldview that each party is bringing to the discussion. This is where a generative dialogue, “a collective interaction designed to increase inquiry into our own mental models and our underlying beliefs and assumptions,” is required (Forman & Ross, 2013).
When worldviews are ignored, dialogue often boils down to manipulation or coercion. The former often takes the form of emotional enticements that circumvent the rational parts of our brains (internet memes are famous for this) and identity-as-authority where statements follow some version of “X group stands for Y belief, I am part of that group, therefore my belief in Y is correct.” The latter, coercion, will take the form of mob-authority, increased volume of speech, and threats to continued inquiry, often of the “my (version of) god says Y is correct, to deny Y is to deny (my version of) deity and will lead to judgment.”
Generative dialogue seeks to address that ignorance by exploring the how and why of a person’s belief. This is not for the purpose of dismissal, but to better understand where a person is coming from and broaden the potential for finding common ground. Starting from the end of two paths will allow for no meeting place, but quite often the paths did intersect at some point along the way. It is in those places of intersection that a reminder of shared humanity and the potential for increased understanding can be found.
Publicly accessible truth claims:
There comes a point in everyone’s life where one or more beliefs one holds simply “because I do” bumps up against someone else’s contrary belief and the need for public justification occurs. Until that moment beliefs/knowledge solely justified based on special, personal and/or arbitrary bases had no effect upon others and could quite easily continue to exist without anyone having to know of them. However, once decisions start effecting others, the potential arises for needing to justify the beliefs that guide those actions. The means of justification, within the structure of a socially interactive and integrated society, can take different forms.
Writing previously on how faith, authority and reason work, I wrote:
Knowing or believing is an extension of our automatic interaction with life. The means by which someone personally justifies their beliefs is as much about providing a secure foundation for their worldview as it is about getting to “Truth.” A person’s central desire is a world and their place in it that makes sense to them, where desires and demands can be met. This worldview is put into practice by each person’s identity, a self capable of moving forward in life and meeting the ebb and flow of living. Knowledge and beliefs are bound to this frame, they are the substance of the worldview that the person is using.
The extent to which a person’s knowledge/belief requires justification is contingent upon the social context and the role the behavior which stems from it effects others. A person who believes little invisible elves clean up trash has little need to justify his belief to others when his only responsibility is cleaning up his own residence. If the person is hired as a cleaning contractor for a business or is hired as the manager for a city’s waste-management division, then such a belief and it’s subsequently derived behavior (i.e. not needing to do the job of cleaning) starts effecting far more people and being confronted about justifying his belief becomes necessary and a requirement for the increase of the social good.
Note that the person in question need not give up their belief in little elves of prodigious cleaning abilities. Rather, the person’s role in society must be changed, as their belief and actions based upon it brings harm to others and undermines the worldview that allows the society to function most fully. If the person refuses to leave their position, stating that they have access to a special revelatory body of information that only they possess and all others must therefore adhere to their understanding of it, they have not merely failed to perform the accepted job, they have begun undermining a central pillar of a rational democracy.
Personal Conscience and Law
It is possible, though highly unlikely, that a person who’s justification for a particular belief is completely based on their personal identity (what I refer to as “faith”) could be correct. As history can attest in bloody detail, however, beliefs based on special, arbitrary and/or personal means of justification are almost always put into place upon a group through some form of violence. Mob-justice, weaponizing groups and pleading to external authority who’s judgment is all encompassing (often some form of deity) are all violent acts. When such is the rule for discourse, there is no longer a democratic rational society, but only the despotism of might-makes-right.
When a person is within a society based on democratic rationalism, particularly when having accepted a role of leadership, it is morally incumbent upon them to act to uphold the pillars of that society’s worldview. When a civil servant, a general populace, or those who seek to represent a pluralistic society, act upon beliefs that limit generative dialogue and dismiss the requirement for beliefs that effect others be based on more than personal desire and the arbitrary interpretation of a “holy book,” the result is moral failure.
There is a certain level of irony to be found in noting those who are calling for the undermining of democratic rational society by pleading to their personal god can only do so precisely because such a society exists to allow them to do so, but the humor only lasts for so long.
© David Teachout
Forman, John P.; Ross, Laurel A. (2013-05-01). Integral Leadership (Kindle Location 178). . Kindle Edition.
In 2014 Ted Cruz won the straw poll for the second year in a row at the Values Voter Summit. The Summit was started back in 2006 based on upholding the social conservative holy trinity of “traditional marriage, religious liberty, sanctity of life and limited government.” For a conference that draws all of 3000 people, focusing on it would seem silly if not for the outsized role those associated with it play in American politics. In warfare the technological expansion of destruction makes it so fewer and fewer people can deal death to a degree that previously required enormous armies. In a country like America where political identities are diminished to a select few and media is more interested in entertainment that disseminating information, groups who otherwise would have little influence in national discussions now carry heavy weight. Regardless of the ability for someone like Cruz to win a full presidential election, he still stands for an ideology that plays an outsized role, one that is diametrically opposed to the humanistic history and egalitarian principles of the American ideal.
To show just how far Cruz and his supporters are from the American ideal, we have but to focus on the three areas for which the Values Voter Summit demands allegiance. Cruz is running to represent the entirety of the United States and since religion is at core divisive, we’ll set it aside initially to see how the ideas presented through a broad public application in no way are representative of America.
Cruz’s position on marriage equality is unabashedly against adults making decisions for themselves.
“I support traditional marriage between one man and one woman,” Cruz said after speaking to the Richardson Chamber of Commerce. “The Constitution leaves it to the states to decide upon marriage and I hope the Supreme Court respects centuries of tradition and doesn’t step into the process of setting aside state laws that make the definition of marriage.”
“Tradition” here is of course selective and time-limited since Cruz is not promoting the purchasing of women for heads of cattle. Rather, marriage is here defined through sexual identity, where it exists as a social demarcation between groups based entirely on reproductive possibilities. For a country built upon the transformative pursuit of personal potential, relegating any social structure to the presence of particular genitalia is essentially to be against the individualism that supposedly makes America great.
Religious Liberty –
Cruz defines the defense of religious liberty as a defining issue in politics today. It is important to note that by “religion” Cruz is quite clearly talking only about Christianity. In his speech at Liberty University for announcing his presidential aspirations, Cruz noted:
“Today, roughly half of born again Christians aren’t voting. They’re staying home. Imagine instead millions of people of faith all across America coming out to the polls and voting our values.” – Cruz, Liberty University speech
Regardless of the facts of this statement, the point is that Cruz’s identification is not with the American people but only with those who identity with Christianity and then only with those who vote to display values in the way he believes are accurate. Conservative historical revision loves to paint America as founded upon Christianity, but even were this true the office of the president is not like that of the Pope. The president represents the interests, ideally, of the American populace. “We the people” does not mean “only those who agree with me.”
Limited Government –
Speaking at the Fort Worth Convention Center, Cruz said: “I spent all week in Washington, D.C., and it’s great to be back in America..”much to the delight of the crowd. This is not mere rhetoric, it is an indication of precisely how Cruz considers the federal government to be related to the American people. Positioning the fed as being inherently against the public may seem peculiar for someone running for the highest political office, but for Cruz, in order to make this state of affairs better requires someone of the people to be in charge of the fed. The practical expression of such is a promotion of individual responsibility and national defense, except of course where such goes against the particular parameters of Cruz’s social morality.
This latter leads into how Christian dominionism links all three of these topics under what can be referred to as Cruz-ism. Now, dominionism is defined as: “the belief that God desires Christians to rise to power through civil systems so that His Word might then govern the nation.” Not every political candidate who espouses belief in Christianity can or should be placed under this label, but it is synonymous with the belief that America is a christian country, a phrase far too easily bandied about without immediate and vociferous challenge. The term “Cruz-ism” is here concerned with pointing to the fundamental problem of dominionism, that due to it having no self-corrective the result is tyranny through social domination.
Even a cursory glance at Christian denominations will show a panoply of positions regarding social issues, theological matters and personal practices. The reason for this is that despite all of them using the same “good book,” that very book has no instruction manual for correct interpretation. Most people don’t realize that there are fundamental theological debates concerning such basic rites as baptism, the repercussions of which concern eternal salvation of one’s soul. If there are debates about whether to sprinkle water, full body dunking or whether to baptize at all, is there really much surprise that there are debates about complex social issues?
Again note that all the groups are using the same source, “the Bible,” and coming to wildly different interpretations. The only way to limit interpretive potential is through external authority and here is where Cruz-ism comes into play. Cruz (and anyone else of similar political weight who has a different opinion) would set himself up as final arbiter of what is just and holy. This isn’t merely out of egotistic desire, it’s a necessary requirement. Without an instruction manual and placing truth outside the realm of rational human discourse, the correctness of theology is established only through the power mechanisms of enforcement. The more one can enforce an opinion, the more right it becomes.
To say that such a stance in political power is undemocratic is to bury the needle in obviousness. Cruz and those who support him, including all who support dominionism, are not concerned with a government based on “we the people.” When they declare rights are “God-given,” they are referring only to their God. Further, since their God is only understood through the interpretive lens that, conveniently, is provided by them, such rights can be removed whenever it is desired to do so. In such a system, social identification becomes far more than a means of group cohesion, providing the basis for who is allowed to hold political office and who is worthy of having basic civil rights.
The American ideal set up freedoms and rights as intrinsic to being humanity, not as being given by an authority figure, as being open to discussion concerning how they instantiate in a complex society, not as directed by self-proclaimed high priests. Cruz’s America is not a land of the free, but a home for the religiously despotic.
© David Teachout
Passion burns. Love hurts. And in the immortal words of the J Geils Band, “love stinks.” Limiting the topic of passion to love would portray an unfortunate falseness, though certainly the two terms are often interchangeable. We speak of having a passion for something almost in the same breath as declaring we love it. That so many of us do not have the gift of a poet limits our word choices, but it does not limit the underlying feeling. Our passions, in as much as our frailties, perhaps more so, define the scope of our lives.
Situations that turn otherwise sane people into fever-eyed imps, entice us in our fantasies and are often emulated in our media. The embrace of passionate intention is done despite of, perhaps even because of, the potential for and poetically narrated descent into, pain and heartache. I’ve sat on those shores, watching the tide go out, wanting to stretch my arms and hold in the ocean, knowing even as I attempted it the hopes and aspirations would seep from between my fingers and flow past the curve of my embrace. I’m not here even talking of love’s loss, though that has happened, but the similar feeling of futility having followed a dream of employment and the proverbial rug pulled out from under. I’m hardly alone in this experience, either of them. Within five years, half of all new businesses will have failed. Despite the falsity of the claim that half of all marriages end in divorce, the stat is so ubiquitous it has reached cult status for truth. For clarification, it should be noted that as of 2002, the rate of divorce is around 33% but only after having been married for ten years.
These stats indicate a shelf-life of sorts for passion. It sustains us only for so long, before circumstances often out of our control hurtle us in another direction. This is, clearly, a simplification of social experiences, but the information still paints a picture of eventual undeniable suffering. Despite this, we push forward valiantly anyway. Why?
Are we all like the berserker of legend, leaping madly into a field of our passions, only to succumb to the pressures of the battlefield that is life? Are we all like whirling dervishes, arms outstretched to extend the power of our desire into the chaos of existence, only to eventually fall down from an emotionally riotous cessation of bodily function? From the foolishness of youth’s embrace of first love, to the entrepreneur who ends his life once having had his dreams crumble around him or in some circumstances felt the brush of success, to the dizzying display of vengeful madness in divorce, all these experiences and more point to the answer of those questions as being a resounding “YES!”
Life cries out to be embraced by our lives. We can be a dispassionate lump, but to maintain such a disposition often requires almost as much fervor as the person leaping about with seeming abandon. The vast numbers of our religious creations speak not to an underlying truth, but to the very human desire to form a coherent narrative of nature’s whim. The varied and constantly evolving forms of romantic attachment speak not to a diminished quality of love, but the deeply passionate belief that love chaffs at artificial boundaries. The endeavors of entrepreneurs and scientists speak not to the frailty of our existential understanding, but the soulful drive to shape out of disparate parts something that will last beyond our individual lives.
The constantly shifting variables in our interconnected universe, combined with the fleeting nature of our emotional states, make passion an affair of that which is profoundly human. From John Green, in The Fault of Our Stars:
“I believe the universe wants to be noticed. I think the universe is inprobably biased toward the consciousness, that it rewards intelligence in part because the universe enjoys its elegance being observed. And who am I, living in the middle of history, to tell the universe that it-or my observation of it-is temporary?”
Hurt and heartache may go with passion and love like interlocked genetic matrices of lived experience, and the acknowledgment of such should never stop us from continuing the barrel-run of our lives. As we are the universe thinking of itself, so it is too our elegance being observed in every pursuit of that which will live on beyond us.
© David Teachout