Class Divide and Communication Failure

There is a class divide that makes communication almost impossible.

If you are part of the population that is upwardly mobile and/or economically stable (mostly upper middle class and above), you aren’t feeling desperate and any political concerns are rarely immediate threats to your life, your family, or your community. Such people live in relative comfort, security, and privilege. They may not be super wealthy and still have problems like anyone else, but none of it is overwhelming most of the time.

It is far far different for the rest of the population, the downwardly mobile and economically precarious, struggling working class, the poor, and the unemployed. These people know in their personal experience that society is dysfunctional, that the economy is rigged, and that the government doesn’t represent them. They directly and personally feel what it means to mistrust and sometimes even fear one’s government, to know that they are on their own with little to save them if everything goes wrong.

These two classes live in separate worlds. The minority who are doing fairly well or, for some, doing great have absolutely no clue what is going on with majority of the population. It is a total disconnect. They don’t understand what it means to feel desperation, anger, outrage, and outright fear, verging on paranoia at times. In the middle-to-upper class defending the status quo, the lower classes unsurprisingly see them as part of the problem, even though the reality is most comfortable people are simply ignorant and only complicit to the degree that ignorance is willful, but mostly it is passive ignorance.

Most Americans no longer trust the government. Most Americans no longer think there is a functioning democracy. Yet the middle-to-upper classes are still acting as if nothing has fundamentally changed, just some reform needed, maybe an occasional signing of a petition or the joining in a march, but just keep on voting for the lesser evil. This is why Trump has been such a shock. Some of the comfortable people are suddenly feeling a bit uncomfortable, a feeling that the lower classes have been feeling for a long time.

Will we finally get to a point where the class divide breaks down? Will the comfortable finally start paying attention, instead of remaining selfish assholes seeking to maintain the status quo? Will those on the bottom of society finally realize the average middle class professional is not the ultimate enemy and instead is simply a clueless ignoramus who, in reality, is no more represented by government than the poor? Will the American public, across all divides, finally see that the problems we face are shared concerns?

Bundle Theory: Embodied Mind, Social Nature

I was listening to the audio version of Susan Blackmore’s Consciousness: A Very Short Introduction. It’s less than five hours long and so I listened to it multiple times to get a good sense of it. I’ve read plenty about the topic and I’m already generally familiar with the material, but it was still helpful getting an overview.

One part that interested me was about split brain research, something that always interests me. The roles of and relationship between the hemispheres indicates much about how our minds operate. Blackmore discussed one often referenced study where split brain patients had information given separately to each hemisphere in order to see how the individual would explain their behavior. As the left hemisphere typically controls linguistic communication, individuals couldn’t give accurate reasons for what was done by their right hemisphere.

The author wrote that (pp. 72-3),

“In this way, the verbal left brain covered up its ignorance by confabulating. It did the same when the other half was shown an emotional picture – making up a plausible excuse for laughing, smiling, blushing, or whatever emotional reaction had been provoked. This might help to explain how these patients can appear so normal. But it should also make us wonder about ourselves. Our brains consist of lots of relatively independent modules, and the verbal part does not have access to everything that goes on, yet it frequently supplies convincing reasons for our actions. How many of these are plausible confabulations rather than true reasons, and can we tell?

“From these experiments, Sperry concluded that his patients had two conscious entities in one head; each having private sensations and free will. In contrast, Gazzaniga argued that only the left hemisphere sustains ‘the interpreter’, which uses language, organizes beliefs, and ascribes actions and intentions to people. Only this hemisphere has ‘high-level consciousness’, leaving the other hemisphere with many abilities and skills but without true consciousness.”

She points out that there is no way to resolve this issue. We can’t prove what is really going on here, even as it touches upon our most personal experience. But she adds that, “Bundle theory does away with the problem altogether. There is neither one self nor two selves inside the split brain; there are experiences but there is no one who is having them” (p. 74). What this means is that our experience of an egoic consciousness is overlaid on the entire experiential field, one experience presenting itself as all experience. Or else an interpretation of experience that alters what we experience and how we experience it. The self as coherent individuality is a mirage. That isn’t to say it is meaningless. Our minds naturally look for patterns, even or especially within our own minds. Meaning is always what we bring to our experience.

As for actual reading, as opposed to listening to audiobooks, my focus has still been on Daniel Everett’s recent publication, Dark Matter of the Mind. It is a difficult read in many parts because much of the linguistics scholarship goes over my head and the academic language can get tiresome, but I’ve been determined to finish it and I’m now near the last chapter. Parts of it are quite interesting, such as his mentioning the theory that “gestures and speech were equally and simultaneously implicated in the evolution of language” (Kindle Location 5102). He then details the relevance of gestures and the embodied communication (Kindle Locations 5108-5111):

““Mead’s loop,” wherein one’s own gestures are responded to by one’s own mirror neurons in the same way that these neurons respond to the actions of others, thus bringing one’s own actions into the realm of the social and contributing crucially to the development of a theory of mind— being able to interpret the actions of others under the assumption that others have minds like we do and think according to similar processes.”

That is what came to mind while listening to what Blackmore had to say about bundle theory of experience. The parts of the ‘self’ don’t form a coherent whole so much as they are involved in intimate contact and communication.

Our experience is social at the most fundamental level, a social phenomenon within each person’s body and social connection to the bodies of others. Our embodied selves are shifting realities with blurred boundaries, out of which forms patterns of social order and social identities. As others have argued, we develop a theory of mind within ourselves by first sussing out a theory of mind about others. So, our sense of self is built on our sense of others, which is to say we understand the relationships between experiences within own embodied minds as an inseparable understanding of our relationships with the larger world.

It’s hard to get at what this might mean. But one important factor is that of language. As Julian Jaynes argued in his book about the bicameral mind, “language is an organ of perception, not simply a means of communication” (p. 50, Kindle edition). Perception is always embodied. In The Master and His Emissary, Iain McGilchrist offers a summary that resonates with what I shared above by Everett (pp. 122-123):

“language originates as an embodied expression of emotion, that is communicated by one individual ‘inhabiting’ the body, and  therefore the emotional world, of another; a bodily skill, further, that is acquired by each of us through imitation, by the emotional identification and intuitive harmonisation of the bodily states of the one who learns with the one from whom it is learnt; a skill moreover that originates in the brain as an analogue of bodily movement, and involves the same processes, and even the same brain areas, as certain highly expressive gestures, as well as involving neurones (mirror neurones) that are activated equally when we carry out an action and when we see another carry it out (so that in the process we can almost literally be said to share one another’s bodily experience and inhabit one another’s bodies); a process, finally, that anthropologists see as derived from music, in turn an extension of grooming, which binds us together as physically embodied beings through a form of extended body language that is emotionally compelling across a large number of individuals within the group.”

Both Everett and McGilchrist are concerned with the evolution and development of language. They see it as inseparable from the embodied mind and the enculturated self. As Everett discusses the importance of gesture, McGilchrist explores the role of music and poetry. There is a strong argument that non-linguistic communication (gesture and/or poetry-music) was well established and highly effective among the earliest hominids, including pre-linguistic homo sapiens. It seems likely that this was the base upon which was built language as we know it.

Jaynes argues that written language was one of the factors that weakened the bicameral mind, a particular pre-egoic bundle theory. Prior to that, oral culture dominated; and in oral culture, language is intertwined with other aspects of human experience and behavior. Some of the evidence supporting this is how ancient humans sometimes spoke of body parts as having their own minds (a way of talking that continued into late Axial Age such as the New Testament canon, such that hands and eyes aren’t necessarily considered part of an integrally whole self; and it should be noted that the New Testament tradition was passed on orally for a number of generations before being written down). This is an experience still spoken of by some of those with schizophrenia and dissociative identity disorder. Even otherwise normal people will have voice-hearing experiences where the voices heard aren’t located in the head, sometimes in or around other parts of the body.

Most of human cognition and behavior is unconscious. The same goes for most of human communication and much of that non-conscious communication is also non-linguistic. This is the bodily or embodied unconscious. This relates to the social nature of our psyches, as with rapport where people mimic each other unawares (gestures, posture, breathing, etc) along with how yawns and laughter can be contagious. What I’m wondering about is how does the body-mind create rapport with itself in order to coordinate its vast multitudinous complexity.

Because of hemispheric divisions, for example, parts of the mind act rather independently. The corpus callosum doesn’t just allow the hemispheres to communicate for it also inhibits and restricts that communication, in ways and for reasons we don’t yet fully understand. Even when the corpus callosum is entirely cut making direct neurological communication impossible, the two hemispheres are able to coordinate behavior such that a person appears normal, even as two separate minds seem to be operating within the skull. Without directly communicating with one another, how do the hemispheres accomplish this?

The simplest answer is that both hemispheres have access to the sensory organs on the opposite side of the body and so can indirectly observe what the other hemisphere is doing (and, in the case of the left hemisphere, hear it’s explanations). But interestingly the two divided hemispheres can come to different conclusions based on different their separate input and processing. They can also act independently, a literal scenario of the left hand not knowing what the right hand is doing.

Here is a different kind of example from Everett (Kindle Locations 5071-5076):

“At age nineteen, IW suddenly lost all sense of touch and proprioception below the neck due to an infection. The experiments conducted by McNeill and his colleagues show that IW is unable to control instrumental movements when he cannot see his hands (though when he can see his hands, he has learned how to use this visual information to control them in a natural-appearing manner). What is fascinating is that IW, when speaking, uses a number of (what IW refers to as) “throwaway gestures” that are well coordinated, unplanned, nonvisually reliant, speech-connected gestures. McNeill concludes that at a minimum, this case provides evidence that speech gestures are different from other uses of the hands— even other gesturing uses of the hands.”

So, gestures are connected to speech. And gestures happen spontaneously. But even without proprioreception, other senses can be used to bridge the gap between conscious and unconscious expression. There are clearly different areas of behavior, cognition, and communication that relate in different ways. We are embodied minds and we know our minds through our bodies. And most of what our mind does is never accessed or controlled by consciousness. As research has shown, consciousness often only plays a role after behavior has already been initiated (less a power of will than a power of won’t).

So, what kind of mind is it that we have or rather that has us?

Online Weirdness

The internet, especially social media, makes people weird. This includes: suspiciousness, rudeness, aggressiveness, unresponsiveness, misplaced common courtesy, absent social norms, lack of typical friendliness, bluntness, etc. I notice the differences in others, as well as in myself.

For instance, there is a fellow blogger I know. We mutually follow each other’s blogs. He recently shared his personal experience in his blog. He doesn’t usually write about personal experiences and so I thought this would be a good opportunity to get to know him better. I responded with some personal experience that was similar to his. I had interacted with this guy before and was trying to make a personal connection, to treat him like a normal person I might meet in normal life, but he gave me no response whatsoever. Just silence.

As another example, I was interacting with a guy I know on Facebook who lives in my community. He mentioned working at a library. As there are several libraries in town, I asked him about which library he works at (with an added “if you don’t mind my asking”). I got no response, not even saying that he’d rather not tell me, despite my having interacted with him online at least hundreds of times over many years, live in the same area as him, know some of the same people, and likely have met him in person at some point.

Ignoring people like that seems rude, or at least it would be in normal life. How can people apparently be so oblivious and unaware about their behavior? why don’t they think the same rules of conduct apply in all aspects of life? Why the division in relating, the dissociation of experience, or whatever it is?

It isn’t just strangers and casual acquaintances. I’ve had similar experiences with people I known personally for years and decades. Sometimes close friends won’t even acknowledge comments I make to their Facebook posts or posts I make to their page. Such silence wouldn’t be considered acceptable in a face-to-face encounter. Why is it acceptable online?

I always respond to people, even strangers, as long as I deem them worthy of a response. On my blog, if I deem someone unworthy of a response, I also deem them unworthy to have their comment to be approved for showing up in my blog. I treat my small corner of the internet as a semi-personal space and so I treat people I meet on the internet personally, which includes both positive and negative responses.

People I meet online are real to me in my experience, even if I’ve never met them in person. I’ve had internet friends who I’ve known and regularly conversed with for years. I know about their lives and their dreams, although I’ve never even heard the sound of their voices. I also treat people I know from my everyday life the same way online as I do offline. I don’t treat the two worlds as separate. It is all the same world, same common courtesy, same way of relating.

I do act differently online, in some ways. I’ll admit to that. I’m an introvert and, like many introverts, I find it more comfortable to be friendly online. I like meeting people online, but less so offline. I’m not a social person in the traditional sense, but I’m not exactly a private person either. I’ve always been a person to which applies, what you see is what you get. The internet hasn’t changed that, although the internet has given a vehicle for that philosophy to play out differently.

I also can be more aggressive online, at times. So, maybe I’m not in a position to judge others for acting out of character. That said, I tend to only act aggressively online to strangers, the type of people I’d never normally interact with at all. So, the internet merely opens me up to interactions that wouldn’t otherwise happen, but it doesn’t change the way I interact with people I already know; at least, I don’t think it does.

I’m not sure what is my point. Maybe people are always weird, but are better at hiding it in everyday life.

Communication Failure, Again

I was in another debate with a feminist about rape. My last such discussion was a few months ago. It was equally frustrating this time. I really don’t like ideologues and I really don’t like political correctness, either from the left or the right.

It isn’t even about whether I agree with someone or not. In this case, I think I may have been more in agreement. But it is pointless because such a person wants to hide behind their beliefs and opinions, hide behind their righteousness indignation, and I suppose hide behind their sense of suffering and victimization.

Life sucks and there plenty of reasons to be angry. I understand that. It is easy to get defensive and polarized into a position. I also understand that. But all my attempts at understanding came to nothing, so it seemed.

It sure can be frustrating trying to talk to someone who is stuck in that mentality. The person I was dealing with never came around to understanding that we were probably completely in agreement, at least about the central issues at hand. She so much wanted to make me into an enemy that divisiveness and heated argument was the near inevitable endpoint.

I wish I was better at communicating in such situations.

Faith in the Power of Knowledge

I was continuing to think more about knowledge, learning and communication.

I’m always reading and researching. One thing I love about my Kindle is that it allows me to do a search of terms across all of my books, excluding the physical books on my shelves. I have enough ebooks now that doing searches is more fun activity.

That is how I was wasting my time recently. I was doing various searches just to see what would come up. I was looking up terms like “Anti-Federalism” and “Articles of Confederation”, but also terms such as “eligible” combined with “vote”. Doing this kind of activity reminds me of how much there is to know and how little I know in comparison.

With those last search terms, I found my way to Liberty in America’s Founding by Howard Schwartz. I always have so many books I’m meaning to start reading or finish that it is nice to have books brought back to my attention. This particular book I had almost entirely forgotten about. My search first brought me to a section on Jefferson and Locke, and then looking at the table of contents I noticed the author had a section on John Dickinson. Oh, what a lovely find/rediscovery.

Just reading a few short sections really did get me excited. The author was presenting a very original perspective. The guy is obviously well informed and he brings so much together. It is books like this that demonstrate the power of knowledge to shift one’s perspective. I can’t help but wonder what would happen if knowledge were to shift the perspective of our entire society, a shift to a new understanding, maybe even an entirely new paradigm.

That is why I so often return to the Axial Age, the Enlightenment, and the Revolutionary Era. Those were fulcrum points in history when entire worldviews shifted like plate tectonics. At the heart of those shifts were new understandings and perspectives. Beginning with the Axial Age in particular, books were what much of that hinged upon, books as a technology to transfer knowledge and insight from one mind to another, across boundaries of nations, religions and ethnicities.

I read and write so much because I have this genuine faith in the power of knowledge. I wish I had endless amounts of time to do nothing but read and write.