Cursed and Cursed Again

I’ve felt particularly frustrated lately, as I’ve already said before. The campaign season has put me in a bad mood. It’s not because of the political games, as I’m used to that kind of bullshit. But seeing the responses of my fellow Americans, specifically my fellow liberals, has shaken my confidence in humanity.

Humans are less rational than I’d like to believe, not that I’ve ever been naive about such things. It’s just that I find it depressing how little rationality matters, even among the intelligent and well educated. Blaming the ignorant masses doesn’t solve the problem when those who should know better act so severely ignorant, some might say willfully ignorant (would it be better if they were passively, submissively, or apathetically ignorant?). Knowledge, even damning knowledge, seems to make so little difference.

Despite my love of knowledge, preferably that which goes beyond mere damning, I can’t claim to have a secret insight about why knowledge matters or how it should be made to matter. If I was an expert in knowledge application, my personal life wouldn’t be such a mess. I’m just another typical specimen of the human species.

I’ve long had the understanding that knowledge is slow to be gained and often even slower to spread. But that I wanted to believe that knowledge, once gained and spread, can be powerful. What I underestimated is the even more powerful resistance people have to new knowledge, specifically that which is inconvenient and uncomfortable. There is some kind of disconnect that we appear to be incapable of bridging.

Our choices and behavior, rationalized as they are, ultimately are results more than causes. The irrationality and ignorance that plagues our society is an effect of deeper propensities of the human mind. It’s not only liberals, despite all my recent griping about them. In recent years, I’ve noticed related problems with those further outside the standard mindset of the liberal class.

An example of this is a left-winger I knew for years online and regularly interacted with, until an incident that led me to block him. He is a nice guy who, as far as I can tell, genuinely cares about the world. For certain, like the abovementioned liberals, he is intelligent, well educated, and well read. I’ve learned much from him and had some great discussions with him. But something changed on that day I blocked him.

As I said, I’ve been in a bad mood for a while now. I don’t know that he was necessarily in a bad mood at the time, although I got the sense that he also deals with depression. Plus, he has experienced some physical maladies in recent years. There was more to the conflict between us than our respective states of mind and being. There was an undertone to our interactions. It wasn’t entirely new. He always had a guarded way about him, not as open as I tend to be.

I only knew a little about his personal life. He grew up in the Deep South. And, before becoming a left-winger, he had been a right-winger. I know the Deep South from having lived there for years of my young adulthood. To be a right-winger in the Deep South is to be pretty damn far right. Still, that was when he was younger and I wasn’t going to hold it against him. As he explained, his views had changed with life experience and much thought.

Nonetheless, I always wondered if there was a bit of that old right-winger left in him. It is hard for me to imagine that it would entirely disappear. He gave hints to this in sharing his interest in human biodiversity, even as he was also critical. His guardedness maybe always put me a bit on guard when trying to understand him, my sensing that there was more to him than he shared and maybe wanted to be known.

My suspicions seem to have finally been proven correct in my last interaction with him. It was on Facebook. We had dialogued on blogs for years before that. For some reason earlier this year, he decided to friend me on Facebook and that could have been a mistake. Maybe Facebook creates a different kind of dynamic. In that final discussion, he was acting aggressive and I wasn’t in the mood. I might even have told him I wasn’t in the mood. He isn’t normally an aggressive person, in my experience, for if he had been normally aggressive to that degree our online friendship wouldn’t have lasted so long.

We were arguing about race. I don’t recall the exact context, not that it’s important. What does matter is that, in speaking about Africans, he basically stated that they all look alike. That is a stereotypically racist way of stereotyping others, that they all look alike. I was genuinely shocked to hear someone like him say something like that.

I pointed out that Africans have more genetic diversity than all non-African humans combined. One can also find entire websites dedicated to showing how drastically different are the physical appearances of Africans from various regions and ethnicities. He tried to defend himself by explaining that he had visited Africa and that his anecdotal evidence of seeing a few African people in one small part of the vast continent of Africa should trump all counter-arguments. Once he had made the claim, he probably felt forced to defend it for his only other option was to retract it and admit he was wrong, an extremely difficult thing for anyone to do.

My mind was blown, as I took his words at face value and assumed that he was expressing something he actually believed (I had no reason to interpret his words otherwise). In irritation, I immediately blocked him and that was the end of it. That was earlier this year, maybe around springtime. It’s been bothering me ever since. It was so unexpected. I really liked the guy and respected him, until he said that. I couldn’t shake the negative feeling it gave me.

His statement contradicted the person he had presented himself as. It demonstrates how people can hide from you the contents of their psyche for long periods of time, sometimes hiding those contents from their own conscious mind. He never gave any indication of that kind of racialist attitude. It seemed to have come out of nowhere. But obviously it was something already present that managed to slip out when his guard was down. If he had thought more carefully before speaking, he would have recognized how it would be perceived and he wouldn’t have said it.

I guess that is what social media can do to people, because of the short quick responses the format encourages. I’ve had other situations where social media led me to learn something about a friend that I wouldn’t have otherwise found out. People’s ability to censor themselves has a way of getting shut down on social media, maybe having to do with how easily a thought in one’s head slips into words on the screen, in a way that wouldn’t happen when in the physical presence of others.

That one statement by this guy doesn’t fundamentally change what is good about him. He remains knowledgeable and insightful about many topics. I still think his writings can be worthy reading. But I must admit that I felt a kind of relief when I blocked him, as it made me aware of an antagonistic edge that had always existed between us. His guardedness (or rather my perception of it) made me feel guarded, which is a feeling I don’t like.

Anyway, thinking about the incident makes me tired. I don’t want to have to look for signs of hidden attitudes and beliefs. No more than I want to deal with endless irrationality and all the rest. But I’m starting to think that it isn’t just that people aren’t always straight with one another. Maybe it’s not in people to be that way. We are too divided in our psyches. We don’t know enough about ourselves to be psychologically honest with others, not fully at least.

I don’t exclude myself from this accusation. The only thing that might differentiate me is how much it bothers me to recognize this in myself as in others. I’m obsessively aware of and hyper-sensitive about these kinds of divisions, disconnections, and dissociations. We humans too often seem like mindless creatures, prodded this way and that by a world beyond our ken. I’m unable to blind myself to this human reality, even as I remain as clueless as anyone else.

I use the above statement as an example because it shows something that is far from unusual. We all do similar things. The racism or racialism he gave voice to in that moment is the kind of ugliness that always lies hidden in the psyche. He only failed in making sure it stayed hidden. Maybe he was shocked as I when he saw what he had written, not exactly the kind of thing one wants to admit about oneself.

Being civilized, in terms of social norms, doesn’t mean never having irrational biases and morally wrong prejudices. Mostly it means not expressing them or adjusting and wording them carefully before speaking, hopefully making us more self-aware in the process and allowing for self-improvement. That is more or less what is meant by being ‘civilized’, not entirely unlike professional politicians (as civil servants of civilization) when they speak to a particular audience arguing for the public good they will do.

We try to shape who we become by how we present ourselves, but in the process we can simply end up deceiving ourselves. We are all politicians, in this respect, and much of our lives are spent in front of one audience or another. We convince ourselves by seeking to convince others. That is why many churches send young adults to do missionary work, often requiring them to use the rhetoric and persuasion of apologetics (e.g., Mormons) and of course requiring moral arguments about their own motivations.

Even politicians want to believe the stories they tell, as that is what all humans want. And most of the time the audience wants to believe them as well, which is how we go on deceiving and being deceived. One might say that we want to be deceived. A story being compelling is more important than it being true or, to put it less cynically, we judge a story true by how compelling it is. But what is compelling inevitably is what confirms our biases and no biases are more powerful than those that are grounded in identity, shared identity most of all. Such is the social and political nature of humans.

Everyone, besides a sociopath, wants to be liked and accepted. We want to be thought of as good people and most people genuine do have good intentions. Hidden ugliness within our psyches doesn’t make us bad people. Still, it does make for a problematic society, as that hidden ugliness effects us and what we do, even when or especially when unconscious. Yet this is normal state of humanity.

I watch how we people act. The absurdity of it all is mind-boggling. Of course, there no doubt is much in myself that I can’t see. I’m part of the absurdity. We are all part of the absurdity because that absurdity exists within us. Or to put it a nicer way, we are a mystery to ourselves. Even with the best of intentions, we do and say bad things that lead to bad results. And in the end, we almost always find a way to rationalize it all. We seem incapable of taking responsibility for what is within us, much less the world around us.

I’m not sure what to do with this insight. A small flickering flame is little comfort in the darkness. Considering our difficulties in seeing clearly, as Bob Arctor says in A Scanner Darkly, we are “cursed and cursed again”. Those words were spoken as Arctor’s mind slowly disintegrated, oddly allowing him to see more clearly what the more well-adjusted around him could not. What he saw, however imperfectly, was that such internal divisions cut across all of society. In this, he came as close to self-honesty as was possible under such near impossible conditions.

16 thoughts on “Cursed and Cursed Again

  1. This is a very long, only-somewhat-introspective version of being intolerant, due to you witnessing ‘they all look alike to me’ combined with a feeling of guardedness that somehow affects you due to personal sensitivity. That’s a quite high neuroticism act, in the big five sense: reactive, opposite of stability/immutable. Which is totally, totally fine; you’ve always been up front about your sensitivity. But dude, don’t drag in morality and even race issues on his side as some kind of objective failure on his part. You may block anyone you please, of course, but I’d submit your act has virtually nothing to do with him. And as to your tin version of what constitutes civic society: civility is about tolerance of intolerance, and very little else. It’s not about normatives at the margin, esp normatives of thought quality; it’s about stretching to tolerate. (in that broad, most important sense, it’s entirely civil to block him if you’re high in neuroticism). Civility is maintaining a large container, without a lot of symmetrical conditions written in the margins, sensitive or otherwise. Of course, it also entails speaking up or acting in situations of perceived harm, but this is a guy with a dumbass opinion. That doesn’t even raise my heartbeat. Why should I get upset when my dry cleaning lady wants to carpet bomb Syria? She doesn’t get to; she’s not even close to enacting evil or hurting someone, so her opinion touches not a whit on my side of civility. It makes her more interesting to me, actually.
    This would’ve been more complete and accurate if you’d’ve just said ‘I’m high in neuroticism, so I blocked a guy for disagreeing with me stupidly’, and saved me having to read all that hand-wringing that mushed up whatever point you had, quite nicely.

    Plus I like that guy, you eternal dork, you.

    • I like that guy too. It doesn’t stop me from stating a criticism. I’m not sure why it matters if a racialist/racist comment is stated by someone I like or someone I don’t like. The statement remains the same.

      The post isn’t any more than what it presents itself as. I was just in a bad mood because of the way things are going on in the world. It has nothing to do with neuroticism. If that were the case, all the unhappy people in the world right now would be dismissed as neurotics.

      My complaints are genuine. I don’t need your approval. Skepoet doesn’t need my approval either. It just is what it is. I’ve also criticized you in the past, as you’ve criticized me in the past. Should I dismiss your petty complaining here as mere neuroticism?

      I think you’re smart enough to know your judgment here of me is inaccurate. I never stated nor gave any reason to assume that I blocked skepoet because he disagreed with me.

      He was being an aggressive asshole that day, for whatever reason. I wasn’t in the mood to deal with an aggressive asshole. And as I recall, I explained that to him. But it didn’t stop him from being confrontational and opinionated, his racialist opinions not helping matters. Maybe he was expressing high neuroticism, not that I particularly care one way or another.

      The opinion by itself would have just caused me to shake my head and move on. But he wouldn’t let up. He just kept going on and on in an obsessive manner. I can be obsessive myself and I know how it is. I’ve had people block me when I was acting like skepoet and I understand why they blocked me. It’s their right to do so.

      I’ve admitted many times before that I can be an asshole at times. I’ve turned many people off with that. Skepoet should understand that likewise people will be turned off by it when he acts that way as well. We’re all adults here and should understand the consequences of our behavior.

      I’m not judging skepoet any differently than I’d judge myself. I’m equal opportunity in my criticisms. If you don’t like the kind of person I am, I’m not forcing you to read my blog and comment. I’m not likely going to block you, as I’ve never experienced you acting in the way skepoet was that day.

      I’m not writing a blog to make friends. My only purpose is to speak truth as best as I can. That is imperfect, of course. All I can say is take it or leave it.

      • That makes sense, wasn’t clear at all. Don’t know why you emphasized the subject matter then.

        Book came out- it’s on Amazon, the liberal’s guide to conservatives. Do take a look, please, and lemme know what you think.

        • I don’t know why I emphasized the subject matter either. It just was bothering me.

          When he made that comment, it really did throw me for a loop. I did not see it coming. And he said it so forcefully and with such conviction. He went to great effort in defending it. It became clear that it wasn’t just a passing thought he had or some kind of miscommunication. He apparently believed what he was saying. I still don’t know what to make of it. And I can’t explain why it still bothers me so much.

          It was connected to how he was communicating his comment. It was a strong opinion that was being strongly expressed. It touched something important in him. But maybe something else was going on there that I didn’t understand. It confused me and I didn’t know how to respond. I’m not used to having people I consider friends making comments like that. I wasn’t psychologically prepared for dealing with it.

          It’s over now. It’s the past and this is the present. There is nothing I can do about it now.

          I’ll check out your book.

        • I found your book on Amazon. By any chance, are you going to make it available in Kindle format? I live in a small apartment and already have every single wall filled with bookshelves. As I get more physical books, I’m forced to get rid of some. That is why I’ve come to appreciate my Kindle.

    • Here is an interesting perspective on your comment. Skepoet was often critical of those using psychological research like personality traits to explain (or rationalize away) the behaviors and attitudes of others. He sometimes was critical of me for posts of mine that focused too much on that kind of thing. It’s sort of funny to see you use it in defense of skepoet.

      Here are some questions for you. Would it have been better if I had analyzed skepoet as a neurotic instead of having judged him for his confrontational opinionatedness expressing racialist views? Would that have been a more helpful or generous attitude? Does it matter which personality traits are motivating skepoet, motivating me in criticizing him, and motivating you in criticizing my criticism of him? Should I have spent more effort in trying to understand his psychological motivations, instead of so quickly judging how his psychological motivations were expressed in particular opinions?

      This post is just me expressing my bad mood. You don’t need to use trait theory to explain that. I doubt my mood is any worse than many other Americans at the moment. The same goes for being an asshole. Skepoet was being an asshole, as I was being in picking on him in writing this post, dredging up an incident that probably would have been best left alone. The candidates, political insiders, and partisans are being assholes. There are assholes everywhere in all walks of life. Assholish behavior has become the norm and the mainstream media loves to spread it far and wide.

      Sure, we should fight against that trend in our society. I don’t know. I’m just in a bad mood. I apologize if some of my bad mood rubbed off on you or simply rubbed you the wrong way. Skepoet doesn’t deserve my being critical of him. I’m not claiming to be a better person than him. Nor am I asking for anyone’s pity. You have a right to judge me and, by posting this, I was inviting judgment. That’s fine. I won’t defend myself.

      I should have written this post better, as always. I maybe should have left out some of what I mentioned. That is a failure of how my mind works. My thoughts and emotions come out in clumps that are hard to disentangle. It’s something I’m constantly trying to improve, working out my personal issues before they slip out in my own words. It’s my personal ugliness showing itself.

      Let me be clear. My respect and appreciation of skepoet remains unchanged. I think he is an awesome guy. I genuinely mean that. I can simultaneously feel negative and positive about him, no different than I feel about many others, including myself. No one should take my criticisms of him too seriously. I’m just some guy writing a blog. And no doubt you’re right that I’ve got neuroticism coming out of the wazoo, not that this is anything new.

      I wish that my friendship with skepoet hadn’t ended as it did. If I were a better person, I would have handled it better. That is part of my point in writing this. We are all imperfect. I don’t feel like being philosophical about it. This is obviously personal. It pisses me off to see what is becoming of the world and not knowing how to respond. It sucks. Yet that is just me being neurotic. Well fuck me! LOL

      There are more important things to worry about. But I can’t say I spend all my time worrying about the world. Most of my time is spent doing other things: reading books that I enjoy, watching tv and movies, petting my cats, having good conversations with friends and family, going for long walks. I wouldn’t take too seriously my complaining here. This blog isn’t my life. It’s just something that I do in my spare time, an occasional outlet for my venting.

      If skepoet does happen across this post, let me apologize to him personally. Not that an apology is likely to make any difference. He has no reason to accept my apology. On his own blog, he told me that I’m no longer welcome there. The blocking was mutual. All of it is water over the dam. I promise not to bring it up again. That’s that.

      • Would it have been better if I had analyzed skepoet as a neurotic instead of having judged him for his confrontational opinionatedness expressing racialist views? Would that have been a more helpful or generous attitude? Does it matter which personality traits are motivating skepoet, motivating me in criticizing him, and motivating you in criticizing my criticism of him? Should I have spent more effort in trying to understand his psychological motivations, instead of so quickly judging how his psychological motivations were expressed in particular opinions?

        No. My point was regarding tolerance, not the details of your problem with him, and, as you said, I was running with part of the picture only.

        • Okay. I accept the point you were making, even with part of the picture only. You are correct about that much. I should have been more tolerant. That is always the case. Trying to be more tolerant is no easy task. This society, despite the rhetoric of tolerance, doesn’t generally promote and reward tolerance in practice.

          I was having another online interaction today that was eliciting feelings of intolerance. It isn’t an excuse that my sense of intolerance was in response to the expressed intolerance of the other person. That just leads to an endless cycle of intolerance. That is why I’m trying to limit my online activities. Dealing with too many random strangers stresses me out, especially when so many of the people one comes across are also feeling stressed out.

          This is something I’m working on. My mom used to say that God isn’t finished with me yet.

    • I was thinking about how I respond differently depending on the person and situation. I’ve heard my mother make a similar comment. She once proclaimed that all Indians look alike. It wasn’t shocking, though. I’ve had a lifetime to grow used to it.

      She is an old school conservative born in the conservative 1940s, coming from a conservative working class family, and raised in a conservative state (Indiana). She has never been politically correct and she has gotten worse with age. Yet she means well and I know I’m not going to change her. When I heard her make her racist generalization, I just bit my tongue and let it pass. She is my mother, after all. I’m not going to block her or unfriend her. She is part of my life and I take the bad with the good.

      Oddly, I hold someone like skepoet to a higher standard than I’d hold my own mother. Maybe that isn’t fair.

      I guess it’s the nature of the internet. I don’t know skepoet in the real world. My only relationship with him is based on ideas and words. That was his only value to me. It seems a bit odd even to call him a friend, as I don’t like to use such words so casually. Even though I liked and respected skepoet, he was at best an extremely casual acquaintance who I barely knew, one step up from a total stranger.

      There wasn’t much personal connection there upon which to form any genuine understanding and concern. My personal life has absolutely no relevance to skepoet and likewise for his personal life. Skepoet was never even all that interested in trying to connect on such a level, as he seems to be a mostly private person online. I have more personal connection to my coworkers who I see every week. If skepoet had been a genuine close friend who I personally knew and cared about, I would have been much more forgiving.

      The internet seems strange to me. All these people interacting who know next to nothing about one another. A computer programmer could design software that imitated human communication online and maybe few if any would even notice. All we typically have on the internet are the words people share and even in that most people, like skepoet, tend to be wary and circumspect in what they share. Even in my relatively greater openness, no one who knows me solely through my blog really knows who I am. This blog is a highly constructed expression of my identity, a projection of who I present to the world.

      Why am I complaining about what some guy said, a guy I don’t really know? I could write several more blogs about skepoet and my relationship with him. It would still all be bullshit. I don’t know him and I’m sure I never will. I have no way of figuring out what he really believes or why he said what he said that day. My judgment of him is meaningless. It’s just words responding to words. All humanity gets lost in the mix.

      Even so, things that happen online have a way of sometimes effecting us. How easily our thoughts slip into the words on the screen. And then how easily words on the screen slip into our minds. All these months later, skepoet’s words are still in my mind. I can’t explain why they got stuck there. There is a weird kind of slippage that occurs, the internet allowing people to communicate in a way that is far beyond normal. Words on a screen can feel so personal, even when no real personal connection exists.

      It matters not that we don’t personally know the people we interact with. They can become real in our imaginations. But our imaginations of people aren’t actual people. The skepoet in my mind isn’t the C. Derick Varn who is living somewhere in the real world. Likewise, how people imagine me most often likely has little to do with who I am. The internet is ripe for endless projections built on endless miscommunications and misunderstandings.

      • Thanks for the ruminations, all makes sense.

        The kindle version was supposed to be up already, kindle is annoying to deal with- check in a day or three.
        Cheaper, too.

        • About my comment above, it might have made a better post than what I actually posted. It can take me a while to get my thoughts straight. I suffer from disordered thoughts more than I suffer from neuroticism.

          You only have to read a post like this. Just imagine living in the mind that produces such stuff. Sure, I might eventually get around to saying something interesting. But in the meanwhile, I end up too often saying much that isn’t worth saying.

          I’m glad you have the patience to deal with me. I have to laugh about myself. I get so worked up at times. Let me say that you’re one of my favorite internet people living in my imagination. That’s meant as a compliment.

          About your book, I’m glad to hear that a Kindle version should soon be available. I will definitely look for it. The last thing I need is another book, but because it’s your book I’ll be sure to buy it. I’m curious to see what you’ve written.

  2. I should clarify something. I don’t go around blocking people on a regular basis.

    I’ve disagreed with many people online. The number of people who have annoyed and irritated me online is surely in the hundreds, quite a few of them having been experienced on blogs and social media. Of those, I’ve only ever blocked and unfriended a few people. And that is over a period of more than a decade of being online.

    My blocking or unfriending someone means that I’m no longer interested in dealing with someone, to an extreme degree. It indicates that I’ve gone beyond a point of frustration. That may or may not be the fault of the other person. It simply is my coming to a conclusion that further interaction will likely be pointless, unhelpful, or more effort than its worth.

    In the example of the post, it was atypical. I’ve never blocked or unfriended someone I knew for so long. That shows how irritated I felt. And as I admit in the post, a large part of that was my already being in a bad mood. The egregious comment itself simply was the straw that broke the camel’s back.

    Maybe I felt that particular relationship had reached an endpoint. The way he was aggressively responding to me in that interaction hinted that something negative might be developing. It made me aware that, for whatever reason, I didn’t like interacting with him on Facebook. Then that made me question the relationship itself.

    I’ve been questioning many of my online relationships lately. I’ve come to the conclusion that there are few people I enjoy interacting with online. Some people resonate with me while others don’t. It’s simply easy to talk to some people and not so much for others.

    There was always a confrontational pattern between this one guy and myself. I was coming to the conclusion that I no longer wanted that kind of thing in my experience. I just don’t want to argue with others. Almost every argument ends up seeming pointless. I’m no longer interested in conflict, not even intelligent conflict.

    I want to focus more on what I love, what excites me and makes me curious. I’m uninterested in explaining or justifying myself. If someone doesn’t know that all Africans don’t look the same, I just don’t give a flying fuck to try to explain it to them. That seems obvious to me and I’ve already stated the obvious too many times in my life.

    It’s time for a new stage in my life. My plan is to be more discerning from now on. Maybe that will help me also to be more tolerant by not feeling in a constant state of frustration.

    • You have shown me to be dead wrong twice, and you have taught me a half-dozen things I value, because you chase down so much material intelligently, across so many domains. Other than my family, I can’t say such a thing about anyone, so you’ve been pretty important to me. A large part of that value comes from you taking chances and saying whqt you’re thinking, which is an underrated way of getting at truth. Most people think finding the truth is some kind of careful, absolute kind of steady panning for gold or somesuch; you’re more like Babe Ruth, doing a lot of swinging and missing, and occasionally connecting very well.

      In particular, you introduced me to boundary theory in psychology in the context of ideology, which ended up becoming quite prominent in my treatment of conservative psychology in chapters 1 and 2 of this book, where I explain that categorization and lots of complex boundary management is the primary method of how orderliness, their most dominant personality difference, is enacted. I see hierarchy and ingroup/outgroup behavior as more particular manifestations of the more general notion of boundary management and the enactment of order, and think it’s a very helpful framing for liberals, who, in contrast, like to either explicitly or implicitly assume away boundary as key in life. You were nearly that explicit about it many years ago as an organizing principle, in quite an offhand way, actually, at the time, and it clicked for me right away. I can’t always catch your articles, but I try to keep up more often than not.

      • I like the way you describe me. Yes, I do a lot of swinging and missing. But every now and then I make contact. Do I get an A for effort?🙂

        My blog is not a finished product. It certain doesn’t meet the standard for writing a book. My mind is always going on and on, even when I’m doing other things. I feel the need to throw things out to see what sticks or else simply to get them off my mind. But sometimes that looks like mental vomit, this post maybe being a case in point.

        I do much of my thinking by writing down what I’m thinking. It’s hard for me to disentangle what is worthy and what not before I post it. There is something about putting a piece of writing before an audience that can help clarify my thinking process. But there are some potential problems with using a blog in this manner.

        Looking at my post and listening to you, I now realize there had to have been many better ways I could’ve written this post. But part of the problem is that I couldn’t know that for certain before posting it. I felt bothered by something I couldn’t quite pinpoint. It really wasn’t about any particular person and I shouldn’t have picked on a particular person.

        Still, there was maybe an insight or a hunch I was getting at. But I was floundering in trying to get hold of it.

        Having slept on it, I realize that the example of the racialist statement wasn’t arbitrary. There is something about it that cuts to the core of our society. I see racialism everywhere, on the political right and left, in the mainstream and outside it, coming from others and in my own thoughts. That is a good word because racialism isn’t the same thing as racism, although there can be overlap.

        Working as a cashier, I’m a public servant. I deal with all kinds of people. Because of the society I live in, I’m hyper-aware of the categories people exist in. It irritates me that race ends up dominating my thoughts. When I interact with many black people, I can sense the social tension of my knowing their ‘black’ and their knowing I’m white. It’s just there in the background, one of the most basic frameworks of our entire society.

        What race, like what ethnicity and class, does to people is shape how they relate to one another. We are a society obsessed with social labels. Every issue and election is analyzed demographically, something I do myself often in this very blog. Identity politics becomes the narrative for everything. We aren’t humans but social identities and demographic categories. It seems to put everyone on edge, this constant emphasizing of what differentiates and separates us.

        And it’s not just my neurotic imagination going on overdrive. The racial tensions in this liberal college town are palpable, even if not typically as violent and oppressive as Chicago. The county I live in has one of the highest disproportionate drug arrest rates of blacks in the country. When I sense tension with some of my black customers, It is no doubt a very much real tension.

        For God’s sake, this is a town filled with good liberals. But I see how powerful racialism is within the liberal mind, albeit unconsciously. There was a book that documented the local media response with its racial bias, a local media that is very much liberal in its slant. The book is “A Transplanted Chicago: Race, Place and the Press in Iowa City”
        by Robert E. Gutsche Jr.

        Even the response to this racialism often just distorts the mind into a different kind of racialist thinking, as I’ve seen with some local activists. There is no way to get from racialism to post-racialism because anti-racialism seems inseparable from racialism itself. The more the knot is pulled the tighter it gets (“cursed and cursed again”).

        To be caught up in racialism isn’t to be a bad person. It’s simply the air we breathe. It’s not just racialism. But for some reason that particular comment about all Africans looking the same got caught in my craw. It was irritating me and I sensed there was more to why it was irritating me, beyond certain irritable tendencies in my personality.

        I still don’t entirely know what is irritating me about all of this. It’s more than a general bad mood and maybe bad attitude, not to deny the relevance of that. I wanted to get at the sense that it isn’t simply an issue on the political right or the political left, just among liberals and conservatives in the mainstream or left-wingers and right-wingers outside of the mainstream. But this was on the edge of my thinking and I was having a hard time articulating it.

        That is all the more reason, though, that I should be more careful in what I write and how I write about it. I’m not writing to make friends. Neither am I writing to piss people off and be an asshole. I’m not a misanthrope. I do actually like people, no matter how simple are my social needs.

        I do miss my relationship with skepoet, as odd as that is considering I didn’t really know him. He was part of my life for many years and now he is not. I don’t hold a grudge against him, but I could understand if he holds a grudge against me. I’m not always an easy person to get along with, at least for those who don’t know me in a more directly personal contact, i.e., face to face.

        The one thing skepoet used to is help keep me honest. When he thought I was going off on some kind of bullshit, he’d call my bullshit. I actually liked that about him. But maybe that confrontational edge finally got to me. I can take a lot of that kind of thing, up to a point beyond which I simply hit a breaking point. It’s true that you also can challenge me. The difference is there is less of an edge to your approach, which is better in the long run.

        There is a large learning curve to internet relationships. It’s entirely different from relationships in the “real world”. I’ve come to realize that the people I interact with and the nature of the relationship has a powerful effect on my moods and responses. This then effects my writing and what I focus on. I don’t want to waste my time or the time of others. I need to prioritize and emphasize what matters most.

        I’m glad that some of what I write is occasionally of interest to those who happen across it. And it’s good to know that some comments I made about boundary types was helpful to your own thinking. I sometimes forget exactly who my audience is. I write about such a variety of things over the years. For me, something like boundary types is an important frame, even if I rarely bring it up these days in explicit terms. It’s one of those understandings that influences my thoughts.

        It’s not hard to see how boundary types relates to my many posts on symbolic conflation and the bicameral mind. Boundary types is central to our society, underlying the most major divides and explaining how our society has become this way. Boundary types isn’t just about individual psychology. Maybe that is the type of thing I should write about and do so in a more direct fashion.

        It also relates to race issues. Social categories are about boundaries. Before these are boundaries enforced on the world, they are boundaries in our minds. Boundary thinking, especially in context of symbolic conflation and the moral imagination, can be used to explain at least one aspect of how social constructs become social realities.

        Our dialogue here is a good example of how my mind operates. In my writing this post and your response to it, I can now see the various threads I was looking for. Having articulated some of this, I now feel less irritated. When an understanding is trying to emerge in my mind, it bugs me endlessly and it can cause me to do a lot of swinging and missing, until I finally connect.

      • I realize you probably have little if any interest in Julian Jaynes and his theory of bicameralism. It’s hard to explain to others why I do find it not just interesting but extremely relevant and important.

        Jaynes wasn’t only concerned about ancient societies. Those ancient societies were simply a way for him to explore human nature and consciousness, in how they relate to the present. He was first and foremost a research scientist who began his career doing animal research. He wanted to understand what made people tick and quickly realized animal behavior wasn’t likely to tell him much.

        What is fascinating about his thoughts on bicameralism is that he was trying to get at many phenomenon seen in our own society, such as why rhetoric and propaganda can be so powerful. Authoritarianism, hypnotism, etc can be interpreted as vestigial bicameralism. He thought we didn’t correctly understand what consciousness was about and how it operated. He definitely was one to look for a deeper explanation beyond superficial understandings, the same thing that motivates people like you and I.

        If Jaynes were still around today, he’d be like a kid in a candy store with all the wondrous research that has been going on. Ernest Hartmann’s first publication on boundary types came one year after Jayne’s died in 1997. He could have found it useful for his own theorizing, as bicameralism suggests that boundaries of social identity and experience can form in radically different ways. Looking back at various societies across the millennia, it’s obvious that boundaries have been conceived, perceived, and enacted in ways that are quite diverse and to us can sometimes seem quite strange.

        My own theorizing about symbolic conflation touches on a related issue. Why is it boundaries get set in a particular location and arrangement? And why once set are they so hard to budge or even to see for what they are? This gets to the issue of why people on either side of boundaries find it so hard to comprehend one another and can’t understand why someone else would perceive and relate to a boundary differently. People enact what they don’t understand and, for the very reason they don’t understand, they go on enacting it like following some kind of hidden script.

        Boundaries are very much about consciousness, what we are and aren’t conscious of, and how we think about consciousness. We only see with our conscious minds what our conscious minds focus on, like a flashlight in the darkness, but what is most intriguing are those areas of the darkness that the conscious mind seems to intentionally avoid. It’s not just that we don’t see certain things but that maybe we don’t want to see them for, if we did see them, then what would we do about it.

        Jaynes’ careful explorations of consciousness might be an important key to unlocking this dilemma.

  3. I realize that I didn’t communicate well in this post, but I was trying to get at an important point. There was a reason I focused so much on the racialist comment and the person who made it.

    That guy is someone I’ve known for years. He is probably the most worldly person I know, as he has spent much (maybe most at this point) of his adult life traveling and living outside the US. He is well educated, widely read, highly intelligent, thoughtful, and insightful. He is way way way above average. He is also a nice guy who sincerely means well. As an old boss of mine would say, he is good people.

    That is why the racialist comment was so shocking. It really did feel like it came out of nowhere. I had never heard him saying anything quite like that before. This guy is not a sloppy, lazy thinker. He tends to be careful and exacting in what he communicates and he expects the same of others. He isn’t accepting and forgiving of sub-par thinking, and indeed he can be quite critical (I’ve been on the other end of his criticisms, sometimes deserved and sometimes not).

    For racialist ideas to penetrate into his brain and lodge there is no small feat. Of course, he grew up in the South where racialist thought is like the air you breathe. But even so, that should make him all the more familiar with racialist thought, the power it can hold over people’s thoughts, the pervasive hidden quality that it uses to maintain itself, and the ease with which it effects people. And as someone well read on such matters, he should be more guarded against racialist thinking that 99.9999999% of the population.

    The comment he made wasn’t even a slight expression of racialism. It was full bore racialism in its most stereotypical form. I expect thoughtless conservatives and reactionary bigots to say such things as some group looking all the same. I do not expect it from someone like this guy.

    This is important. It shows how powerful is racialism. It slips into your mind without you realizing it and can really fuck up your head. Like a parasite, it does its thing often without you even realizing its there. If this guy isn’t safe from racialist thought, then none of us are. It is already in our heads and it influences us all the time, even if it doesn’t usually come out as blatant statements. We underestimate the power mind viruses have over us. There is a reason racialism has become so widespread, so pervasive in every aspect of society, and lasted so long.

    This isn’t just about those other people. Judging and dismissing the racist bigots might feel satisfying, but they are symptoms of a much larger and deeper problem. Projecting onto them and using them as scapegoats allows it all to continue festering. I get the sense that few people understand and appreciate this situation. Most people would rather not think about it or at least not think about it too deeply or for too long.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s