The Great WEIRDing of the Jaynesian Ego-Mind as a Civilizational Project

“Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.”
~ Luke 23:34

“I’m supposed to act like they aren’t here. Assuming there’s a ‘they’ at all. It may just be my imagination. Whatever it is that’s watching, it’s not human, unlike little dark eyed Donna. It doesn’t ever blink. What does a scanner see? Into the head? Down into the heart? Does it see into me, into us? Clearly or darkly? I hope it sees clearly, because I can’t any longer see into myself. I see only murk. I hope for everyone’s sake the scanners do better. Because if the scanner sees only darkly, the way I do, then I’m cursed and cursed again. I’ll only wind up dead this way, knowing very little, and getting that little fragment wrong too.”
~ A Scanner Darkly (movie)

Let us explore the strangeness of human nature and what it means in our society. For practical purposes, this will require us to use the examples of other people. The simple reason is that certain behavioral and identity patterns are easier to see in others than in ourselves. So, just because our present focus is turned outward, it does not imply that we are standing above in judgment, that we are casting the first stone. We will safely assume that, like all humans, we lack the requisite self-awareness to always see clearly what we do and how what we do is more inconsistent than we would prefer. The following is not about the moral failure of individuals but a reckoning with our shared species-being. The most blatant example we are aware of, in our personal experience, is that of someone we have known for about a quarter of a century. We have on multiple occasions, along with others present to confirm it, observed her say something to one person and then, upon walking into the next room, immediately say something completely contradictory to someone else. She seemed oblivious to the fact that she was still in ear-shot of those she just spoke to, suggesting it was not a consciously intentional act of deceit and manipulation. In all the years we’ve known her, she has repeated this behavior many times and she has never shown any indication of understanding what she did or any memory of what transpired. It’s as if she had been two different people, in apparently not carrying a portable and unchanging internal ego structure from one place to the next.

Along with other behaviors, this has led us to suspect she has borderline personality disorder or something along those lines, whatever one might call it; not that she has ever been diagnosed and it must be stated that, in her own perception, she thinks she is completely sane. But psychiatric diagnoses and debates about them are irrelevant for our purposes here. Indeed, maybe she is sane and labeling something does not protect us from what it represents, does not quarantine the perceived mental disease. The issue at hand implicates us all. What we’re discussing here has everything to do with how memory operates, with the narratives we create in retelling memories, forgetting them, and forming new ones. The same lady above, it might be noted, is talented at shaping narratives, not only in her own mind but in the moment of relating to others and so projecting those narratives onto the world, such as staging melodramatic conflicts (typical according to descriptions of borderline personality disorder; when an inner boundaries can’t be maintained, one turns to creating external boundaries in the world by projecting onto others and then controlling them). And she is masterful in creating and controlling her social media persona. The point for bringing all of this up is that, even if her case is extreme and obvious, that kind of thing is surprisingly not abnormal. All of us do similar things, if most of us are better at covering our tracks. We’ve come across numerous other examples over the years from a diversity of people.

Often memory lapses happen in more subtle ways, not always involving overt inconsistency. Amnesia can operate sometimes in maintaining consistency. One guy we know has a strange habit of how he eats. It’s so extremely methodical and constrained. He’ll pick up his fork, place a piece in his mouth, lay down the fork, and carefully chew for an extraordinary amount of time, as if he were counting the number of times chewed. It’s very much unnatural, that is to say we could tell it was trained into him at some point. We pointed this out to him and he didn’t realize he was doing anything unusual, but his wife told us she knew why he did it. Many years earlier, he had told her that his mother had made him thoroughly chew his food as a child and, indeed, she was a strict woman as he has shared with us. The thing is, even when told of this memory he once shared with his wife, he still could not remember it — it was gone and, along with it, any understanding about the origins of his behavior. The memory of his mother’s voice telling him what to do is absent, whereas the authoritative command of her voice still echoes in his mind. An external authorization is internalized as part of the individual ego-mind and simply becomes part of an unquestionable self-identity.

To emphasize the power this holds over the mind, realize this goes far beyond only one particular behavior as his entire identity is extremely controlled (controlled by his egoic willpower or by the authorizing voice of his mother repeating in his unconscious?). He had forgotten something from his childhood that has continued to unconsciously determine his behavioral identity. It was a total memory lapse; and maybe the erasure wasn’t accidental but an important mechanism of identity formation, in creating the sense of an unquestionable psychological realism, the way he takes himself to be as inborn character. It absolutely fascinates us. That kind of forgetting we’ve noticed so many times before. Let us share another incident involving a different married couple, one we’ve also known for a very long time. The husband told us of when his wife went looking for a dog at an animal shelter and he accompanied her. According to him, she told the shelter worker who helped them about how she had gotten her first dog, but the husband explained to us that she had made it up or rather she had told him an alternative version previously, whichever one was correct or whether either was. When he confronted her about this creative storytelling, she simply admitted that it was not true and she had made it up. As he told it, her manner treated the admission like it was irrelevant or insignificant, and so she offered no explanation for why she did it. She just shrugged it off, as if it were normal and acceptable behavior.

Yet it’s entirely possible that the whole situation was beyond her full self-awareness even in the moment of being confronted, similar to the case with the first woman mentioned above. Directly confronting someone does not always induce self-awareness and social-awareness, as identity formations are powerful in protecting against conflicting and threatening information. Amusingly, when we later brought up the animal shelter incident to the husband, he had zero recall of the event and having shared it with us. These transgressions of memory and identity come and go, sometimes for everyone involved. Let’s return to the first couple. There was another situation like this. The husband told us that his wife had been pro-choice when she was younger, but now she is rabidly anti-choice and calls those who are pro-choice baby-killers. This guy told us about this on multiple occasions and so obviously it had been something on his mind for years. Like all of us, he could see the inconsistency in another, in this case a woman he had been married to for more than a half century. He is an honest person and so we have no reason to doubt his claim, specifically as he himself is also now anti-choice (did he always hold this position or did he likewise unconsciously change his memory of political identity?).

The husband told us that his wife no longer remembered her previous position or presumably the self-identity that held it and the reasons for holding it; likely having originated in her childhood upbringing in a working class family that was Democratic and Protestant (note that, until the culture wars heated up in the 1980s, most American Protestants were pro-choice; in opposition to anti-choice Catholics at a time when anti-Catholic bigotry was still strong). Not long after, when discussing this with him on another occasion, he stated that he had no memory of ever having told us this. The thing is this couple has become fairly far right, fear-mongering, conspiratorially paranoid, and harshly critical in their older age. They weren’t always this way, as we knew them when they were younger. Though they always have been conservative as an identity, they both once were relatively moderate and socially liberal; prior to the rise of right-wing and alt-right media (Fox News, Epoch Times, Rush Limbaugh, Laura Schlessinger, Jordan Peterson, etc). The husband used to be far less intellectual and, in his younger days, instead of reading books about religion and politics he read Time Magazine and Playboy. In their early marriage, they attended liberal churches, had pot-smoking friends, and were committed to a worldview of tolerance and positive thinking.

Over the decades, they had re-scripted their identity, according to a powerful right-wing propaganda machine (i.e., the Shadow Network started by Paul Weyrich, initially funded by the Coors family, and ushered in by President Ronald Reagan), to such a degree that it erased all evidence to the contrary — their former selves having been scrubbed from personal memory. So, it’s not only that they’ve dramatically changed their politics over their lifetimes but that they no longer remember who they used to be and so now will deny they were ever anything other than ultra-conservatives. The change has been so dramatic that they probably wouldn’t like their younger selves, if they could meet; and their younger selves might be appalled by what they’d become. It does get one thinking. To what degree do all of us change in such a manner with similar obliviousness? How would we know if we did? We are unlikely to see it in ourselves. And often those around us won’t notice either or else won’t mention it to us. There is typically a mutual agreement to not poke at each other’s illusions, particularly when illusions are shared, entwined, or overlapping. Unravelling our own narratives or those of others can be dangerous, and people will often lash out at you for they will perceive you as attacking their identity.

This perfectly normal strangeness reminds one of anthropological descriptions of the animistic mind and porous self. In many hunter-gatherer tribes and other traditional societies, self-identity tends to be more open and shifting. People will become possessed by spirits, demons, and ancestors; or they will have a shamanic encounter that alters their being upon receiving a new name. These changes can be temporary or permanent, but within those cultures it is accepted as normal. People relate to whatever identity is present without any expectation that individual bodies should be inhabited continuously by only a single identity for an entire lifetime. Maybe this animistic psychology has never really left us, not even with the destruction of most tribal cultures so long after the collapse of bicameral societies. That other way of being that we try to bury keeps resurfacing. There are many voices within the bundled mind and any one of them has the potential to hail us with the compelling force of archaic-like authorization (Julian Jaynes’ bicameralism meets Louis Althusser’s interpellation). We try to securely segment these voice-selves, but every now and then they are resurrected from the unconscious. Or maybe they are always there influencing us, whether or not we recognize and acknowledge them. We just get good at papering over the anomalies, contradictions, and discontinuities. Julian Jaynes points out that we spend little of our time in conscious activity (e.g., mindless driving in a trance state).

What we are talking about is the human nature that evolved under hundreds of millennia of oral culture. This is distinct from literary culture, a relatively recent social adaptation layered upon the primitive psyche. This deeper ground of our species-being contradicts our highly prized egoic identity. To point out an individual’s inconsistencies, in our culture, is about the same as accusing someone of hypocrisy or lying or worse, possibly mental illness. The thing is maybe even psychiatric conditions like borderline personality disorder are simply the animistic-bicameral mind as distorted within a society that denies it a legitimate outlet and social framework. That said, we shouldn’t dismiss the achievements of the egoic mind, that is to say Jaynesian consciousness (interiorized, spatialized, and narratized). It isn’t a mere facade hiding our true nature. The human psyche is flexible, if within limits. There are genuine advantages to socially constructing the rigid boundaries of the literate ego-mind. This relates to the cultural mindset of WEIRD (Westernized, Educated, Industrialized, Rich and Democratic or pseudo-Democratic). Joseph Henrich, in his book The WEIRDest People in the World, argues that it is literacy that is the main causal factor. He points to research that shows greater amounts of reading, presumably in early life, alter the structure of the brain and the related neurocognition. More specifically, it might be linguistic recursion, the complex structure of embedded phrases, that creates the complexity of abstract thought — this is lacking in some simpler societies and indeed it increases with literacy.

Importantly, what the research on the WEIRD bias tells us is that most people in the world don’t share this extreme variation on the egoic mind and a few remaining populations don’t have an egoic mind at all as they remain fully adapted to the bundled mind, although surely this is changing quickly as most of humanity is becoming some combination of Westernized, modernized, urbanized, and educated; specifically in how literacy spreads and literacy rates go up. We are only now reaching the point of mass global literacy, but it’s still in its early stages. Literacy, for the average person, remains rudimentary. Even in Western countries, the civilizational project of Jaynesian consciousness, in its WEIRDest form, is still partial and not well established. But, in recent centuries, we’ve begun to see the potential it holds and one cannot doubt that it is impressive. The WEIRD egoic mind is obviously distinct in what it makes possible, even in its present imperfections. Studies on WEIRD individuals do show they act differently than the non-WEIRD. Relatively speaking, they are more broadly consistent and abstractly principled (uniform standards and conformist norms), with a perceived inner voice of a supposed independent conscience (as originally reinforced through the moralizing Big Gods that were believed to see into the soul); and that relates to why principled consistency is so idealized in WEIRD society. Even when WEIRD subjects think no one is watching, they are less likely to cheat to help their families than non-WEIRD subjects. And, when asked, they state they’d be less likely to lie in court to protect a loved one. This is what the egoic structure does, as an internalized framework that is carried around with one and remains static no matter the situation. The WEIRD mind is less context-dependent, which admittedly has both strengths and weaknesses.

It’s not clear that this mentality is entirely beneficial, much less sustainable. It might be the case that it never will become fully established and so could always remain wonky, as the above examples demonstrate. The bundled mind is maybe the permanent default mode that we will always fall back into, the moment our egoic defenses are let down. Maintaining the egoic boundaries may simply be too much effort, too much drain on the human biological system, too contrary to human nature. Yet it’s too early to come to that judgment. If and only if we get to a strongly literate society will egoic WEIRDness be able to show what it’s capable of or else its ultimate failure. Consider that, in the US, the youngest generation will be the first ever majority college-educated and hence the first time we will see most of the population fully immersed in literary culture. It’s taken us about three millennia to get to this point, a slow collective construction of this experimental design; and we’re still working out the bugs. It makes one wonder about what might further develop in the future. Some predict a transformation toward a transparent self (integral WEIRD or post-WEIRD?). Certainly, there will be a Proteus effect of mediated experience in shaping identity in new ways. Building off of mass literacy and magnifying its impact, there is the Great Weirding of new media that might become a Great WEIRDing, as there is a simultaneous increase of text, voice, and image. Will the egoic mind be solidified or fall back into the bundled mind?

The challenge for the egoic identity project is that it takes a long time for the external infrastructure of society to be built to support internal structures of identity (e.g., private property and the propertied self), since individualism does not stand alone. That is what modernity has been all about; and most of us have come to take it for granted, in not realizing the effort and costs that went into it and that are continually invested for its maintenance, for good or ill. This is what the Enlightenment Age, in particular, was concerned about. Science and capitalism, democracy and technocracy involve constructing systems that reinforce egoic consistency, principled morality, and perceived objectivity. Liberal proceduralism, within democracy, has been one such system. It’s the attempt to create a legal and political system where all are treated equally, that is to say consistently and systematically. That is far unlike traditional societies where people are intentionally not treated as equal because context of social roles, positions, and identities determine how each person is treated; and that would be especially true of traditional societies where identity is far more fluid and relational, such that how even a single person is treated would vary according to situation. Much of what we think of as corruption in less ‘developed’ countries is simply people acting traditionally; such as what the WEIRD mind calls nepotism and bribery where one treats others primarily according to specific context of concrete relationships and roles, not abstract principles and legalistic code.

Obviously, liberal proceduralism doesn’t always work according to intention or rather the intention is often lacking or superficial. Even conservatives will nod toward liberal proceduralism because, to one degree or another, we are all liberals in a liberal society during this liberal age; but that doesn’t indicate an actual shared commitment to such liberal systems that promote, support, and defend a liberal mindset. Still, sometimes we have to pretend something is real before we might be able to finally manifest it as a shared reality; as a child play-acts what they might become as an adult; or as a revolution of the mind precedes revolution of society and politics, sometimes preceding by a long period of time (e.g., the transition from the English Peasants’ Revolt and the English Civil War to the American Revolution and the American Civil War). This is what we are struggling with, such as with the battle between science and what opposes and undermines it, mixed up with crises of expertise and replication, and involving problems of confirmation bias, backlash effect, etc. The scientific method helps strengthen and shape the egoic structure of mind, helps an individual do what they could not do in isolation. We need systems that create transparency, hold us accountable, incentivize consistency, and allow us to more clearly see ourselves objectively or at least as others can see us, that force us into self-awareness, be that egoic or otherwise.

All of this relates to why it’s so difficult to maintain liberalism, both in society and in the mind; as liberalism is one of the main expressions of the literary WEIRDing of Jaynesian consciousness. Liberalism is an energy-intensive state, similar to what Jaynes argues; a hothouse flower that requires perfect conditions and well-developed structures, such that the hothouse flower requires the hothouse to survive and thrive. Do anything to compromise liberal mentality, from alcohol consumption to cognitive overload, and it instantly regresses back into simpler mindsets such as the prejudicial thinking of the conservative persuasion. This is precisely why inegalitarian right-wingers and reactionaries (including those posing as liberals and leftists, moderates and centrists; e.g., DNC elite) are forever attacking and undermining the very egalitarian foundations of liberal democracy, what makes liberal-mindedness possible at all; and so casting doubt about the radical and revolutionary possibility of the liberal dream. To be fair, there are real reasons for doubt; but the dark alternative of authoritarianism, as advocated on the reactionary right, is not a desirable option to be chosen instead; and there is no easy path open, besides maybe total collapse, for returning to the animistic and bicameral past.

This is a highly problematic dilemma for we have become committed to this societal aspiration and civilizational project, based on centuries and millennia of pathway dependence, layers upon layers upon layers of interlocking cognitive introstructure (metaphorically introjected structure), organizational intrastructure, societal infrastructure, and cultural superstructure. If we come to think this has been the wrong path all along, we’ll be scrambling to find a new way forward or sideways. In the conflict between what we are and what we pretend and hope to be, we will have to come to terms with the world we have collectively created across the generations. But maybe we are not actually schizoid and psychotic in our fumbling in the dark toward coherency, maybe we are not splintered within an internal self and not divided from external reality. If the bundled mind is and will always remain our psychic reality, our selves and identities have never not been pluralistic. Still, we might find a way of integrated balance between the bundled mind and the egoic identity, according to the integralist motto of transcend and include. It might not be a forced choice between two polar positions, a conflict between worldviews where one has to dominate and the other lose, as we’ve treated it so far. Until that changes, we will go on acting insane and denying our insanity, not recognizing in our fear that insanity itself is an illusion. We can never actually go against our own human nature, much less go against reality itself.

“When you know yourselves, then you will be known, and you will know that you are the sons of the living Father. But if you do not know yourselves, then you are in poverty, and you are poverty.”
~ Gospel of Thomas, Saying 3

“Barfield points to an “inwardization,” or a simultaneous intensification and consolidation of subjectivity, that has transpired over the evolution of humanity and whose results characterize the structure of our souls today. In fact, just because of this represents what is normal to us, we hardly notice it, having no foil to set it off.”
~ Max Leyf, Mythos, Logos, and the Lamb of God: René Girard on the Scapegoat Mechanism

“Crazy job they gave me. But if I wasn’t doing it, someone else would be. And they might get it wrong. They might set Arctor up, plant drugs on him and collect a reward. Better it be me, despite the disadvantages. Just protecting everyone from Barris is justification in itself. What the hell am I talking about? I must be nuts. I know Bob Arctor. He’s a good person. He’s up to nothing. At least nothing too bad. In fact, he works for the Orange County Sheriff’s office covertly, which is probably why Barris is after him. But that wouldn’t explain why the Orange County Sheriff’s office is after him.

“Something big is definitely going down in this house. This rundown, rubble-filled house with its weed patch yard and cat box that never gets emptied. What a waste of a truly good house. So much could be done with it. A family and children could live here. It was designed for that. Such a waste. They ought to confiscate it and put it to better use. I’m supposed to act like they aren’t here. Assuming there’s a “they” at all. It may just be my imagination. Whatever it is that’s watching, it’s not human, unlike little dark eyed Donna. It doesn’t ever blink.

“What does a scanner see? Into the head? Down into the heart? Does it see into me, into us? Clearly or darkly? I hope it sees clearly, because I can’t any longer see into myself. I see only murk. I hope for everyone’s sake the scanners do better. Because if the scanner sees only darkly, the way I do, then I’m cursed and cursed again. I’ll only wind up dead this way, knowing very little, and getting that little fragment wrong too.”

10 thoughts on “The Great WEIRDing of the Jaynesian Ego-Mind as a Civilizational Project

  1. It’s not possible for me to react cogently, possibly not even coherently, to this opus. I do know that I am tired of the outer appearance of ‘civilization’ (much of classical music is an exception). The ‘tiredness’ may be due to my advanced age. What comes to mind as I re-read this to get its essence (I hope) was my overwhelmed and positively stimulated reaction to seeing the art of Hilma af Klint (not Klimt) at the Modern Museum of Stockholm for the first time and, later, elsewhere and in books and the Internet.

    • We enjoyed the artwork of an artist we weren’t previously familiar with. One senses deeper symbolism or archetypal resonance hidden in its aesthetic form. Anyhow, your appreciation toward this post is appreciated, but it seems not all appreciated it as one person unfollowed this blog immediately after this was posted. Maybe it could be considered an opus of sorts. Our intentions, though, were rather simple and so we tried to keep it simple by hewing close to firsthand observation. So, we resisted the urge to get into the scholarly and historical weeds, such that references were kept minimal and only a few quotes added for flavoring. It felt more or less satisfactory in conveying a basic point.

      One has a hard time knowing what to make of this phenomenon. That is the reason for the inconclusiveness of the post. We have no crystal ball to predict the future. Like everyone else, we’re in the middle of it all. And, if anything, we’re probably more immersed than most. We were raised in the highly WEIRD literary mind and egoic individualism of the white American middle class. Not only were our parents college graduates but one a teacher and the other a professor. The ideals of principled consistency and strong egoic boundaries were drilled into us from a young age. It’s hard for us to fully imagine being otherwise, beyond vague intuitions and wonderings.

      It can be easy to see the problems and inadequacies with what, at present, is a ramshackle construction. But it’s unclear that anyone has anything better to replace it with, however much we respect the bundled mind. On a personal level, if not for some ego-shattering experiences with meditation and psychedelics in early adulthood, we might not grok that there is more to the human psyche. As such, our sympathies go out to your tiredness. We’ve often felt the same, although more often in the past. Slowly, we might be gaining a grudging acceptance of this bound-and-chained human condition, though ‘acceptance’ is not the right word; maybe more along the lines of tolerance. To simply have the eyes to see our actual state is better than remaining among the blind being led by the blind.

      Writings such as these are a soulful contemplation, not as much a judgment against a rotten social order and an infectious mind virus, even as we are interrogating the status quo, the ruling paradigm, and ideological realism. We’ve already spent so many decades in complaint and criticism. It never got us anywhere except spiraling into depression. So, we’ve increasingly come to the point of sitting here in a bewildered sense of awe toward all the craziness. That said, there are plenty of other posts in this blog that gripe profusely and sometimes with much abandon. We aren’t lacking in that department. But it’s nice to occasionally flex our other psychic muscles. No doubt the outer appearance of “civilization” is a real humdinger. There is a high weirdness to it all. And most of us don’t notice it most of the time. That is what stands out, how easily our awareness slips away from us.

    • We have our own experience and ideas around being “tired of the outer appearance of ‘civilization’”. But maybe we should inquire into what you mean by that. Is there something particular you have in mind that has really irritated or exhausted you? We have had plenty of tiredness in our life, particularly in the past, although we feel better these days since we’ve done some health improvements of diet, nutrition, and lifestyle. This kind of thing has been our mind, as our sense is many Americans are tired and stressed, whether or not they identify it with “the outer appearance of ‘civilization'”.

      Part of what is so exhausting, according to Jaynes, is simply maintaining the egoic mind or the appearance of an egoic mind. And, indeed, that is the identity we have to maintain in order to be included as civilizational members in good standing. Some of us can handle the drain better than others because we have greater psychic reserves. Any of us, though, will get low on energy if we don’t find a way to maintain health and reduce stress. But, in general, people tend to lose their capacity for this as they age, when the body declines. The same would be true when people are malnourished, metabolically dysfunctional, immunocompromised, etc.

      We were recently thinking again about the historical disease of neurasthenia. It’s an intriguing topic and one we’ve written about before in fair detail. It’s all about the relationship of psychic exhaustion and the demands of civilization. It coincided with mass urbanization and industrialization; and that has everything to do with modern egoic individualism that became more important as traditional kinship and communities broke apart. Even though it’s no longer taken seriously, one senses that the old constructs of nervous exhaustion and nervous disorders are still meaningful to a large extent. Those disease diagnoses were an attempt, prior to the present medical atomism, to get at a more holistic understanding of health.

      • “Part of what is so exhausting, according to Jaynes, is simply maintaining the egoic mind or the appearance of an egoic mind.” This rings a bell in my noggin. Here’s single example of what tires me: the ugly, egoistic skyscrapers of a modern city. San Francisco is ruined; the once-familiar landmarks of the lovely twin peaks (‘breasts of the virgin’ is an ancient phrase propounded by some historians) have been ‘disappeared’ by the distraction of one’s attention to the clusterforest of sharp-edged and shiny buildings as one traverses the Bay Bridge from Oakland. Another example is personal. Today is my 85th birthday. My wife helped me celebrate, at home, my 75th and 80th with friends and food and just a little hoopla. This time, well in advance, I felt, and told her, that a repeat of the parties is too egoistic. I would be embarrassed. I’ve lived in Stockholm for the last 20 years. The lovely old buildings are being superseded by the inevitable sharp-edged and shiny buildings, or peculiar buildings that speak of egoistic architects and financiers. Popular music sounds ugly, for the most part. Body piercings, tattoos and faux raggedy clothes make ugly the youth of today. I’m old and cranky.

        • We get it. There is much in the modern world that is irritating to the senses and the soul.

          By the way, our personal theory is that, as the body-mind is increasingly stressed and exhausted and sickened, we become ever more psychically immunocompromised and vulnerable to the memetic power of mind viruses, specifically in terms of the reactionary mind and authoritarianism. We suspect that vast inequalities, as embodied by those egotistic ugly buildings, is a major factor in draining our society’s collective psychic reserves and hurtling us toward a new fascist-like era.

          If on a smaller scale, this middle-sized Midwestern town, Iowa City, has also seen a recent upsurge in highrises built by and for the wealthy. The gentrification of the entire downtown has changed the character of the town and nearly destroyed the sense of community that once existed. But those who wanted to clean up the downtown seem blind or indifferent to the harm it has done.

        • We were looking back at comments, as we are wont to do. Our mind has been on the WEIRDing of New Media in particular. And that brought us to this post, in thinking about what we had previously said on the matter. It is endlessly perplexing in occupying our mind.

          We took note of your architectural observations. That does get to an important point. In reference to another post of ours, there are many aspects to the enclosure of the mind. We are enclosed by boundaries and infrastructure. But we are also enclosed by the visual environment.

          Those ugly highrises and skyrscrapers obstruct the view of the natural world that could lift us out of our small-minded egoic humanity. It reminds us of the earthquake that happened in California some decades ago. The lights went out in some big city, maybe Los Angeles.

          There was, unsurprisingly, much panic. Yet public officials were confounded by people calling in about the strange lights in the sky following the earthquake. Then someone finally figured out that some of these city-dwellers were seeing the fully starry sky for the first time, as all the blinding light pollution suddenly disappeared.

          Most of are so enclosed we don’t realize we are enclosed. That is to say we are unaware and ignorant of the vast reality, psychic and natural, that exists outside of (above, below, and beyond) our narrow, confining, and suffocating bounded world. Still, that greater reality doesn’t stop existing and functioning, even when we lack eyes to see it.

    • By the way, we’re reminded of another comment elsewhere. It was at one of the posts we linked above. You might remember it. The post was about the enclosure of the commons and the enclosure of the mind.

      The commenter, someone who has regularly visited, took our post as a criticism of or even an attack on city life. That missed the point, even ignoring that the enclosure of the commons was as much about a change to rural life.

      The person thought we were being unfairly critical. Admittedly, we are fully capable of being extremely critical and at times unfairly so. But sometimes people take us as being merely negative and that makes us feel defensive.

      The accusation is understandable. There is often an underlying negative impulse in what we say. We are more talented in seeing what is wrong with the world and with others than in seeing the good. Decades of depression will do that to you.

      If we are to be fully honest, this entire post is motivated by a sense of complaint for, otherwise, these anecdotes would never have caught our attention in the first place. We humans are really fucked up. And it makes it so difficult to have happy and healthy relationships.

      How does one relate to those who say one thing and then don’t remember later or who act like different people at different times? That is a serious question. Even if we are guilty as well of unawareness, that doesn’t nullify the complaint.

      We don’t know to what extent this is about ‘civilization’ overall. But, at times, it can feel like all of civilization was built on a weak foundation that, at this point, might be a broken and crumbling foundation. Or else, the walls we built for protection, have become a prison.

      Still, beyond such larger analysis of society, there is a simple concern, both practical and personal. The first example in this post is someone we can’t avoid and don’t want to shut out from our life. Yet we also have given up on trying to have a normal relationship with them.

      We have come to the conclusion that we no longer want to be alone around them, as we constantly have to be on the defense against manipulation. She has really caused a lot of problems in our life, even though she probably has no conscious intention of causing harm.

      She is probably the most mentally ill person that we know on a personal level. She can’t recognize this in herself, though. That is what bugs us. We are able to admit to our own mental illness and social dysfunction, and so we get some credit for at least basic self-awareness and humility.

      That is why the post is inconclusive. We really don’t know what to do with this info. It can be understood on an intellectual level, but the intellect can’t offer much guidance on how to deal with it, besides maybe insight for compassionate understanding.

      More basically, it can be perplexing and irritating. We’re not sure we’re capable of the compassionate understanding that would be required to relate well with such people. But, since the modern world is filled with such people, we have no way of fully avoiding such strangeness.

      There are real world consequences of this. In our opinion, most of our social and political problems have to do with the crippled collective psyche. We are a morally stunted society. We’ve only come to the grudging acceptance or tolerance (like developing tolerance for a poison) out of sheer necessity.

  2. This was a post we’ve wanted to write for a long time. These anecdotes have been accumulating over the years. But some of them are more recent. It’s that we kept coming across such examples that made us realize that this wasn’t only about a few oddballs. We started wondering how any of us really knows what we do or who it is that is doing it.

    We’d be curious to know if there are others who have similarly collected such anecdotal evidence of the often extreme inconsistency and incoherency of the egoic mind. And we’d particularly like to know what those in non-WEIRD societies think of this. Is this ‘schizoid’ tendency just the same in other cultures? How is it perceived and treated?

  3. We thought of a great example. One of our closest friends is an African refugee who, after being in the US for a number of years, finally got his citizenship. He is a really great guy and we enjoy being around him. He effectively received no formal education prior to coming to the US and his literacy is minimal. He has been working on his GED, but he struggles because he never developed the requisite intellectual skills of reading comprehension, critical thinking, etc.

    It’s not that he lacks intelligence, if it was never shaped by a highly literate WEIRD culture in his early life, as he possesses immense informal knowledge he has picked up from living in different countries and from watching news media. He knows three languages and so can watch a wide variety of news media than most Americans. So, he has amassed a lot of factual knowledge, although it’s more along the lines of factoids.

    He compensates for his lack of analytical skills by getting a diversity of sources of info, but this compensation can only go so far since he lacks a basic ability to discern between truth and falsity, reality and fantasy; rhetoric and reporting; and so he can’t differentiate between a trustworthy source and not. Part of this has to do with his struggling with a psychiatric condition that is being treated. It’s probably more than that, though, as the culture and particularly the community he was raised in was still largely oral and tribal.

    The country of his early life is Islamic and it is strongly authoritarian, theocratic, and patriarchal; with little funding for public education or anything else typical of a social democracy. Obviously, there isn’t much democratic freedom, autonomy, and agency; much less WEIRD-style egoic individuality. It’s not the conditions under which WEIRD-like attributes can develop. This is surely why he has no understanding of the meaning or value of democracy and science — just more belief systems in his mind.

    As one might expect, there is much inconsistency in his thinking. He doesn’t resonate with WEIRD principles of treating everyone equally. And so he doesn’t understand why democratically enforcing, for example, that people have the protected right and freedom to choose to be heterosexual, homosexual, transgender, etc is not the same as anti-democratically enforcing everyone to be a particular way (e.g., criminalizing same sex marriage); and yet he supports theocratic laws that are authoritarian in this manner.

    He suffered under authoritarianism. And he refuses to ever return to Libya out of fear of authoritarianism. Yet he makes clear that, if given a free choice, he’d choose to reinforce unfreedom for himself and others in his new home country. He simply does not grok democratic institutions, particularly not science where Darwinism is perceived as theology like Creationism. He has no WEIRD principles because he believes that religious authority trumps all else. One doesn’t need principles when one simply follows traditions and rules, as interpreted by someone else. He needs others to offer the discernment and structure that he lacks inside his own mind.

    That is different from the WEIRD extremes of Jaynesian consciousness. The egoic mind is built from external structures, but like training wheels these eventually are removed. A WEIRD individual can be taken out of the those external structures and put in a different context while, within their individuality, maintaining the internalized structure that allows for them to remain consistent across contexts. They don’t require constant input from external authorization, as they carry their authorization with them as an independent ego.

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