How did American English become standardized?

Someone asked me about General American (GA) dialect, sometimes called Standard American. This person specifically asked, “In the 30’s to 60, there was the transatlantic accent, but I was wondering when general american became the norm for tv / movies?”

General American is a variant of American Midland dialect. It’s considered to have its most representative form in a small area of the far western Lower Midwest, mostly but not entirely west of the upper Mississippi River: central-to-southern Iowa, northern Missouri, eastern Nebraska, and northwestern Illinois. Major mainstream media figures such as Ronald Reagan and Walter Cronkite came from this part of the country, Illinois and Missouri respectively.

The archetype of GA in broadcasting was Edward Murrow who was born in North Carolina but early on moved to the rhotic region of the Pacific Northwest, specifically Washington state. According to Thomas Paul Bonfiglio (Race and the Rise of Standard American, pp. 173-4), Murrow’s “nightly radio audience was estimated to be 15,000,000 listeners” and widely considered “the foremost American correspondent of that era.” Murrow’s career took off during WWII when America’s image of greatness finally took form (with the help of the destruction of Europe), and the voice that came to be identified with this new great America was that of GA-speaking Edward Murrow. He helped train and inspire an entire generation of broadcasters that followed him. Bonfiglio then states that,

Those who were hired and trained by Murrow in turn hired and trained Walter Cronkite, Mike Wallace, Harry REasoner, Roger Mudd, Dan Rather, and Chet Hunley (230). Walter Cronkite, who was often characterized as the most trusted man in America, characterized himself as a “direct descendent of the Murrow tradition”

There are variants of GA found across the Midwest, in the Far West, and along the West Coast. Many people working in radio, television, and movies speak GA—whether or not it was the dialect they spoke growing up. GA became standard because of a number of reasons, besides those already mentioned.

Let me begin with a discussion of the Midwest.

The Midwest for a long time has been the median and mean of the population in the United States. Between great soil and plentiful water for agriculture and industry, it attracted most of the immigrant population since the 1800s. Even most people heading further west passed through this region. For this reason, the early railroads were built heavily in the Midwest. Chicago, in particular, was in the past the hub of America. The ‘Midwest’ symbolically is quite broad, imaginatively encompassing almost the entirety of the American interior.

The Midwest was increasingly where large audiences could be reached, an important factor in early broadcasting. Another important factor was that the area of GA is most equidistant from all other areas of the country, and so the dialect is the most familiar to most Americans—i.e., it sounds neutral, as if without accent.

Some have gone so far as to argue that GA is inherently more of a ‘neutral‘ accent in that it is easier to speak or sing for most people; and if that were the case, it could have helped it have spread more easily. Interestingly, GA is in some ways closer to early British English than is contemporary British English, as rhotic pronunciation of ‘r’ sounds used to be the norm for British English and still is for GA. Rhotic English, in the United States, is also what distinguishes (Mid-)Western dialect from Eastern and Southern dialect.

By the way, Reagan worked in Midwestern broadcast radio before he became a Hollywood actor. Strangely, quite a few cowboy actors came from or near the area of GA dialect, such as John Wayne from southern Iowa (his father having been from Illinois and his mother from Nebraska). Wayne has a way of speaking that is hard to pinpoint regionally, other than it sounding vaguely ‘Western’, definitely not Eastern or Southern.

GA took longer to take hold in entertainment media, as regional dialects remained popular in many television shows. In 1934, there was the first “syndicated programming, including The Lone Ranger and Amos ‘n’ Andy” (Radio in the United States). It was news broadcasters that helped make GA the norm for the country, although even this took a while (Bonfiglio, p. 58): “Even in the late thirties, the idea of a standard American English had not yet been located in a specific region, and a sort of linguistic relativism in the field of pronunciation prevailed.” Besides those named above, there were others such Clifton Garrick Utley (along with his mother and father who also worked for NBC) and Vincent Pelletier or, even over in Ohio, someone like Lowell Jackson Thomas. Midwestern broadcasters like this only gained wider national audiences starting in the 1940s, and so they helped to define the emerging perception of a Standard American or General American dialect. The world war era helped fuel the seeking of a national identity and hence a national way of speaking. It helped that Western broadcasters like Edward Murrow similarly spoke rhotic GA.

Plus, the Midwest developed the only thriving regional public radio, partly because of the large number of land grant colleges. It’s not that public radio initially was all that important nationally. But it had great influence in the region. And it probably had some later influence on the eventual establishment of National Public Radio.

Still, early broadcasters do sound different than today. Even Cronkite in the beginning of his career had a more clipped style. This had less to do with regional dialect and maybe more to do with the medium itself at the time—as dthrasher explained: “I’d guess that the “50’s accent” you hear had much to do with the technology of AM and shortwave radio. Precise diction and a somewhat clipped style for words and phrases helped to overcome the crackle and hiss of static in radio reception.” He also points out “that many movie and television stars of that era got their start in theater,” a less casual way of speaking, but I’m not sure how much influence that would have had on the field of broadcasting.

What exactly changed, besides technology, in the mid-20th century? Bonfiglio emphasizes that there was a growing desire for standardization in the 1940s. An obvious reason for this was the rise of the public school movement as part of the response to the perceived threat of ethnic immigrants who weren’t assimilating fast enough for many WASPs. As Bonfiglio writes (p. 59):

In 1944, the New York State Department of Education formed a committee to decide on standards of pronunciation to be taught in public schools (C. K. Thomas 1945). The committee was comprised of over a dozen national language experts, who decided that the pupils should all become acquainted with the three types of American pronunciation: “Eastern, Southern and General American.”

So, it wasn’t (Mid-)Westerners declaring themselves as speaking General American. Apparently, even those outside of the (Mid-)West acknowledged that there was this broadly American dialect that was neither Eastern nor Southern. But why did this matter?

The South obviously wouldn’t become the standard because it is the region that started and lost the Civil War. Besides, the South didn’t have a large concentrated population as did the North, a major reason for their having been overwhelmed by the Union army. That still leaves the upper East Coast region, as it did initially dominate early entertainment media. The mid-Atlantic consisted of a massive population, from the 1800s into the early 1900s. The problem was that this massive population was also massively diverse, with a large influx of Southern and Eastern Europeans, including many non-Protestants (Jews, Catholics, and Eastern Orthodox).

This led many to look to the (Mid-)West for a ‘real’ American identity, probably related to the growing popularity of movie Westerns and all that they mythologized in the public mind. Americans early on came to symbolize their aspirational identity with the West, the Midwest being the first American West. A state like Iowa, west of the upper Mississippi River, was a clear demarcation point for where dialect was most distinct from the East and South, a place where there were few Jews and blacks.

The rhotic dialect was quite broadly distributed in the Western United States, even being heard from a Texan like Dan Rather, though it is true his mother and her family came from Indiana—it does make me wonder what dialect he spoke as a child and young adult. It should be noted that Texas received a fair amount of German immigrants, many having passed through the Midwest before settling in Texas. Then there are other broadcasters such as Tom Brokaw from South Dakota and Peter Jennings from Canada, both areas of rhotic accent among other shared linguistic characteristics. Standard Canadian English is closely related to Standard American English and, indeed, there was much early immigration between Canada and (Mid-)Western United States.

Following the Civil War and into the 20th century, the population was simultaneously growing in the Midwest and West Coast. This represented the future of the country, not just major agricultural regions but the emergence of major industries and new centers of media.

The first movie shot in Hollywood happened in 1910. That was a silent movie and hence accent wasn’t yet an issue. It would be a couple of decades before films with sound became common. I was reading that it was WWI that disrupted the film production in other countries. With California becoming an emerging center, the studio system and star system having developed there.

The numbers moving westward increased vastly following the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl. Many of those who ended up in California came from the Midwest, the area of the greatest population and the origin of what has come to be called Standard American English.

The far Middle West accent had already established itself as important. The earliest radio broadcasters that reached the largest numbers of listeners often came from the Midwest or otherwise similarly speaking regions. When so many Midwesterners moved to California, they brought their accent with them. Midwestern broadcasters like Ronald Reagan sometimes became movie stars. Consider also the stereotypical California surfer dude made famous through Hollywood movies. Many of the movie stars and movie extras were of German and Scandinavian ancestry, which had been concentrated in the Midwest. Beach movies came to replace Westerns, but I’m not sure how that might have played into changing attitudes about General American.

The boom of the defense industry and population in California after WWII made it a more important center of culture and media. California even became the center of a religious movement that would take the country by a storm, the new mega-churches that reached massive television audiences. One of these California preachers was Robert H. Schuller who was born and raised in Iowa.

I suppose it took decades for the new accent to become more common mainstream media. By the 1990s, Standard American English definitely had won out as the new dominant accent for the country. It was becoming more common in the 1980s tv, such as with Roseanne which began in 1988. New York City is still a major media center, but it is mostly now known for print media. Even so, there remains a media nostalgia in making movies about New York City, whether or not they are still made there.

The transition to GA dominance wasn’t an accident. There were demographic reasons that made it more probable. But it must be noted that many intentionally promoted it. The Midwest represented a tradition that simultaneously included immigrant diversity and assimilation. This tradition at times was promoted quite forcefully, such as by Klansmen of the Second Klan who hated non-WASP ethnic-Americans (i.e., hyphenated Americans). Mainstream media corporations as gatekeepers were quite self-conscious in their establishing English standardization. The media companies, as stated by Bonfiglio, went so far as to hire professionals from the early speech correction field to teach their broadcasters to speak this at the time newly emerging mainstream standard of American English.

The person who posed the question to me about General American, followed up with this comment: “Even Rosanne doesn’t sound all GA to me. And John Goodman sounds southernish. Was just wondering. I notice some say that after 60s black and white tv it became standard. But I really don’t see that to be the case at all.”

The Roseanne cast had a diverse group of actors. Roseanne Barr was born in Utah, but when she was still young she moved to Colorado which is partly in the Midlands dialect region—her accent is a mix. Several of the other people on the show were born in the Midwest, specifically three from Illinois and one from Michigan. A few were from California and probably spoke more GA, although it’s been a long time since I’ve watched the show.

John Goodman was born in St. Louis, Missouri—what many would consider as culturally part of the Midwest, although there is a Southern influence in Missouri. I’ve even heard a Southern accent in southeast Iowa, from someone who lived just across the Mississipi River. Western Illinois and northern Missouri are part of the specific subset of Midlands dialect (i.e., pure GA) that has become so well known in the mainstream media.

My mother grew up in the Midlands region, central Indiana to be precise. Even she had a Southern-like accent when she was younger, the Hoosier accent that is akin to what is heard in the Upper (Mountain) South. She lost it early on in and now speaks GA. As a speech pathologist, it was part of her job to teach students to speak GA.

I spent many formative years right in the heart of the heart of General American. Even after spending years in the South, it didn’t take long to start speaking GA once I was back in Iowa. It drove my mother wild when I picked up some Southern dialect and she would correct my language, as is her habit. Maybe she was happy when I returned to speaking solid Midwestern dialect.

About early television shows, one to consider is Happy Days. It was set in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. One of the actors was from Wisconsin. Some others were from Minnesota, Oklahoma, illinois, and California. There were a few New Yorkers in that cast as well.

Oddly, one of its spin off shows, Laverne & Shirley, was also supposedly set in the same Milwaukee location. But it’s cast was overwhelmingly from New York. Another spin off from Happy Days was Mork & Mindy, which was supposed to be set in Boulder, Colorado. The two main actors were from Illinois and Michigan, Robin Williams being from Chicago. Of the rest of the cast, two were from Ohio, two from Texas, and one from New York.

From my childhood and young adulthood, there were popular shows like The Wonder Years. The main actor and the actress playing his mother were both from Illinois. By the time that show was on, it probably didn’t matter where actors/actresses came from. Most of them were learning to speak GA. It was probably in California, not the Midwest, where most people in entertainment media learned to speak GA. A Southerner like Stephen Colbert is a good example of someone losing a distinctly regional accent in order to speak GA, although he probably didn’t need to go to California.

If I had to guess, GA came to dominate news reporting and Hollywood movies before it came to dominate tv shows. I’m not sure why that might be. If that is the case, your guess would be as good as mine. One guess might be that tv shows never drew as large of audiences and so General American was less important. New reporting once it became national, on the other hand, demanded an accent that was understandable to the most people. Hollywood movies likewise had larger and more diverse audiences.

According to one theory, General American simply happens to be the accent most Americans can understand the most easily and clearly. Bonfiglio, however, considers that to be an ethnocentric and racist rationalization for the dominance of the (Mid-)Western equivalent of the Aryan race, that perceived superior mix of Anglo-Saxon British and Northern European ancestries. Maybe so or maybe not.

About my mother’s career as a speech pathologist teaching ‘proper’ GA English, my interlocutor then asked the following set of questions, “Just wondering, what era was this? I just find it odd when I watch so much 80s tv and movies, GA isn’t used. What did she teach them for? And was the GA that she taught the one that you mention today? was the accent even remotely similar to what we consider GA today?”

Having been born in the 1940s, my mother started work in the late 1960s and continued until the 2000s. So, she grew up and worked in the precise period of GA dialect fully taking over.

I talked to my mother. We discussed the changes in her own speech.

She doesn’t clearly remember having a Southern-sounding accent or rather a Hoosier accent, but it clearly can be heard on an old audio of her from back in the late 1960s, in the time of her life when she had recently finished college and had begun her career as a speech pathologist.

I asked her if her professors spoke GA. She said that they probably did. She does remember when she was younger that she pronounced in the same way the words ‘pool’, ‘pull’, and ‘pole’. And, when she was in college, a professor corrected her for saying ‘bof’ in place of ‘both’. My mother still will occasionally fall into Hoosier dialect by saying ‘feesh’ for ‘fish’ and ‘cooshion’ for ‘cushion’, the latter example happens commonly in her everyday speaking.

For the most part, my mom speaks GA these days. There is no hint of a Hoosier accent. And, around strangers, she is probably more careful in not using those Hoosier pronunciations. But, even as late as the early 1980s, some people in northern Illinois told my mother that she had what to them sounded like a slight Southern accent. For the time we lived in Illinois and Iowa, we were in the area of GA which probably helped my mom lose what little she had of her childhood dialect.

I also asked my mother about her career as a speech pathologist. She said that early on she thought little about dialect, either in her own speaking or that of students. She did work for a few years in the Deep South before I was born, when my dad was stationed at a military base. She would have corrected both black and white Southern children without any thought about it. Compared to Deep Southern dialect, I’m sure my mother even when young sounded Midwestern, an approximation of the rhotic GA dialect.

It was the late 1980s when our family moved to the South Carolina. My mother said that is the first time she was told to not correct the dialect of black students. She still did tell her black students the different ways to pronounce sounds and words and she modeled GA, but she couldn’t technically teach them proper English. At that time, she also wasn’t allowed to work with kids who had English as a second language, for there were separate ESL teachers. Yet, back in the early 1980s, she worked with some Hispanic students in order to teach them proper English.

Until South Carolina, she says she never considered dialect in terms of her speech work. It seems that the language professions were rather informal until later in her career. She spent the longest part of her career in South Carolina where she worked for two decades. Her field had become extremely professionalized at that point and all the language fields were territorial about the students they worked with and the type of language issues they specialized in.

So, my mother’s own way of speaking English changed over her career as the way she taught language changed. By the end of her career, she says even a speech pathologist from the South and working in the South with Southern students would have taught GA, at least to white students and probably informally to black students as well. She said that speech pathologists ended up teaching code switching, in that they taught kids that there were multiple ways of speaking words. She pointed out that many older blacks she worked with, including a principal, didn’t code switch—that makes sense, as they probably were never taught to do so.

My mother’s career wasn’t directly involved in dialect and accent. She was a speech pathologist which means she largely focused on teaching articulation. She never thought of it as teaching kids GA, even if that was the end result.

That field is interesting. When my mother started, it was called speech correction. Then early in her career it was called speech therapy. But now it is speech-language pathology. The change of name correlated to changes in what was being taught in the field.

I don’t know if General American itself changed over time. It’s interesting to note that many of the earliest speech centers and speech corrections/therapy schools in the US were in the Midwest, where many of the pioneers (e.g., Charles Van Riper) in the field came from—such as Michigan, Wisconsin, and Iowa. Right here in the town I live in, Iowa City, was one of the most influential programs and one of the main professors in that program was born in Iowa City, Dean Williams. As my mother audited one of Williams’ classes, she got to know him and he worked with my brother’s stuttering. Interestingly, Williams himself came in contact with the field because of his own childhood stuttering, when Wendell Johnson helped him. My mother heard Williams say that, while he was in the military during WWII, Johnson sent him speech journals as reading material which inspired him to enter the field when he returned after the war.

So, it appears at least some of the speech fields in the US developed in or near the area of General American dialect. Maybe that is because of the large non-English immigrant populations that settled in the Midwest. German-Americans were the largest demographic in the early 20th century and, accordingly, to mainstream WASP culture this was one of the greatest threats. Even in a college town like Iowa City, the Czechs felt compelled to start their own Catholic church because they couldn’t understand the priest at the German Catholic church. Assimilation was slow to take hold within ethnic immigrant communities. Language standardization and speech correction became a priority for the purveyors of the dominant culture.

Let me point out one thing in relation to my mother. She went to Purdue. The head of her department was Max David Steer, having been in that position from 1963 to 1970, the exact years my mother spent at Purdue. He was a New Yorker, but he got his Ph.D. from the University of Iowa here in Iowa City. Like Williams, he probably also learned under Johnson. The field was small at that time and all of these figures would have known each other.

Here is an amusing side note.

My mother began her education when the field was in transition. Speech corrections/therapy had only been a field distinct from psychology since after WWII, although the program at Purdue started the same year my mother started school, 1963. When she got her masters degree, 1969-70, they had just begun teaching transformational linguistic theory. She says it was highly theoretical and way over her head. Guess who was one of the major influences on this development: the worldwide infamous left-winger, Noam Chomsky. So, my mother learned a bit about Chomskyan linguistic theory back in the day.

By the way, listening to Chomsky speak, it definitely is more or less GA. He grew up in Pennsylvania. It was Pennsylvanian culture that some argue was the greatest influence on Midwestern culture. This is because so many early immigrants entered the United States through Pennsylvania and from there settled in the Midwest. But there is a definite accent that can be found among many Pennsylvanian natives. It’s possible that Chomsky picked up the GA dialect later in life. Anyway, he personifies the neutral/objective-sounding intellectuality of GA in its most standardized mainstream form—so straightforward and unimposing, at least in the way Chomsky speaks it.

I get the sense that, going back far enough, few overtly worried about standardized English. It was simply considered proper English, at least by the mid-20th century. I have no idea when it first became considered proper English in the US. If I had to hazard a guess, the world war era probably helped to establish and spread General American since so many soldiers would have come from the (Mid-)West, the greatest proportion of population in the country—larger than the Southern, Mid-Atlantic, and Northeastern populations combined. It might be similar to how a distinct Southern accent didn’t exist until the Civil War when Southern soldiers fought together and came to share a common identity. Edward Murrow, of course, played a role as the manly voice of WWII describing firsthand accounts of fighting and bombings to the American public back at home.

Whether or not it deserves this prominent position, I suspect General American dialect is here to stay. To most people of this country and around the world, this dialect represents American society. It has become not just dominant here but in most places where English is spoken.

GA has even come to be promoted in the non-entertainment media of the British Broadcasting Company (BBC), specifically for news shows directed at the non-British, as the BBC reaches an international audience. Hollywood has, of course, spread GA English to other countries. So have video games, as the largest consumers of this product are Americans, which creates a bias in the entire industry. More English-speakers in the world have a GA dialect than any other dialect.

General American has become the unofficial standard of English almost everywhere. It is the English dialect that most people can easily understand and not recognize as being a dialect.

Were cave paintings an early language?

Elizabeth Dodd, from In the Mind’s Eye, discussed Julian Jayne’s theory of bicameralism. She thinks it falls short, in particular because of new data about early human development.

That is a fair criticism for any older book that is inherently limited to what was available at the time it was written. In the past few decades, a ton of new info has become available, both through archaeology and translated texts.

Rather than Jaynes, she prefers another theorist (Kindle Locations 350-355):

Besides, I’m more convinced by another scholar, Robbins Burling, who points out that the growth of the brain began two million years ago, from 6oo cubic centimeters to modern humans’ mans’ doubled capacity of at least 1,200 cubic centimeters-in in culinary measurement, we have today about two and a half cups of brain in the curved bowl of our skull. As he notes, from its Australopithecine beginnings the hominid brain had very nearly reached our own modern size long before the archaeological logical record reflects great innovations in tool production. Our changing brains weren’t littering the landscape with evidence of flourishing technological innovation. So what were we doing with those bigger, more complex neural capacities? Talking, ing, he says. Our brains grew as both natural and sexual selection tion guided our species toward ever increasing capacities for language-both comprehension and speech.

I had a thought about language. Genevieve von Petzinger studied the earliest cave paintings and claims to have found a common set of geometric designs, 32 of them to be precise. She speculates that they were used to communicate basic common meanings.

I’m not sure it would have been quite as complex as something like hobo symbols. It could have been much simpler, along the lines of how prairie dogs give names to things in their immediate environment, including individual people who visit regularly.

What prairie dogs have is a basic set of nouns and that is it, as far as we know. Other animals like whales will call each other by name. Plus, there are animals like dogs that can understand simple commands. Even my cats can comprehend the emotion behind my words and, if you’re persistent enough, cats can be taught to respond to simple commands as well.

Is this complex enough to be called language? Is language more than merely naming a few things or responding to simple commands?

Petzinger points out that the ancient symbols weren’t an alphabet or anything along those lines. She also doesn’t think they were abstract symbols. Most likely, they represented concrete things in the world and maybe used as basic counting marks. If these people had language, one might expect these symbols to already be developing some of the qualities of an alphabet or of abstraction. But it appears to be extremely concrete, maybe with some limited narrative elements.

These cave paintings are from the ice age and the period following. The oldest are from around 40,000 years ago. That is far cry from the couple million years ago that Robbins Burling is talking about. If humans were talking at so far back, why didn’t they leave any signs of language? As for the rock paintings, Dodd thinks they do demonstrate language mastery (Kindle Locations 363-365):

By the Upper Paleolithic, when we finally see the great painted caves and sculpted figurines of the Aurignacian culture and those that followed, the artwork suggests a level of mythic and symbolic thinking that could not have been possible without out language. The images, I feel certain, point to narrative, and one cannot tell stories with only a rudimentary lexicon.

Maybe… or maybe not. It’s highly speculative. But, if so, the narrative would be key. Is narrative the tipping point for the formation of actual language? Narrative would be the foundation for verbs, beyond the mere naming of nouns. It would also indicate incipient complex thought based on awareness of temporality and possibly causality (Kindle Locations 355-359):

“Perhaps language confirms, rather than creates, a view of the world,” he reasons. Syntax often reflects an iconic understanding standing of the relation among agents and goals (often through grammatical subjects and objects); our ability to perceive patterns and to “read” or “hear” the world precedes our induction into any specific language form. “We seem to understand the world around us as a collection of objects that act on each other in all sorts ofways,” he says. “If our minds were constructed so as to let us interpret the world in this way, that would be quite enough to account for the structure of our sentences.”

What kind of consciousness, mentality, or worldview would that indicate?

Language and Knowledge, Parable and Gesture

“Man exists in language like a fly trapped in a bottle: that which it cannot see is precisely that through which it sees the world.”
~ Ludwig Wittgenstein

“As William Edwards Deming famously demonstrated, no system can understand itself, and why it does what it does, including the American social system. Not knowing shit about why your society does what it [does] makes for a pretty nasty case of existential unease. So we create institutions whose function is to pretend to know, which makes everyone feel better.”
~ Joe Bageant, America: Y Ur Peeps B So Dum?

“One important characteristic of language, according to Agamben, is that it is based on the presupposition of a subject to which it refers. Aristotle argued that language, ‘saying something about something’, necessarily brings about a distinction between a first ‘something’ (a subject) and a second ‘something’ (a predicate). And this is meaningful only if the first ‘something’ is presupposed . This subject, the immediate, the non-linguistic, is a presupposition of language. At the same time, language seems to precede the subject it presupposes; the world can only be known through language. That there is language that gives meaning and facilitates the transmission of this meaning is a presupposition that precedes every communication because communication always begins with language. 2

“Agamben compares our relationship with language with Wittgenstein’s image of a fly in a bottle: ‘Man exists in language like a fly trapped in a bottle: that which it cannot see is precisely that through which it sees the world.’ 3 According to Agamben, contemporary thought has recognized that we are imprisoned within the limits of the presuppositional structure of language, within this glass. But contemporary thought has not seen that it is possible to leave the glass (PO, 46).

Our age does indeed stand in front of language just as the man from the country in the parable stands in front of the door of the Law. What threatens thinking here is the possibility that thinking might find itself condemned to infinite negotiations with the doorkeeper or, even worse, that it might end by itself assuming the role of the doorkeeper who, without really blocking the entry, shelters the Nothing onto which the door opens. (HS, 54)

[ . . . ]

“What is compared in the parable , as for example in the messianic parables in the gospel of Matthew, is not only the kingdom of God with the terms used in the parables (a field in which wheat and weeds are mixed), but the discourse about the kingdom and the kingdom itself. In that sense, the messianic parables in Matthew are parables about language, for what is meant is language itself. And this, according to Agamben, is also the meaning of Kafka’s parable ‘On Parables’. Kafka is looking for a way beyond language that is only possible by becoming language itself; beyond the distinction between sign and what is signified:

If you’d follow the parables, you’d become parables yourselves and with that, free of the everyday struggle.(TR, 43) 17

“What Kafka indicates here, according to Agamben, is an indistinguishability between being and language. What does this process of becoming language look like? Agamben sees a hint of this in one of Kafka’s journal entries. On 18 October 1921, Kafka wrote in his journal:

Life calls again. It is entirely conceivable that life’s splendor forever lies in wait about each one of us in all its fullness, but veiled from view, deep down, invisible, far off. It is there, though, not hostile, not reluctant, not deaf. If you summon it by the right word, by its right name, it will come. This is the essence of magic, which does not create but summons. 18

“According to Agamben, this refers to an old tradition followed by the Kabbalists in which magic is, in essence , a science of secret names. Everything has its apparent name and a hidden name and those who know this hidden name have power over life and death and the death of those to whom this name belongs. But, Agamben proposes , there is also another tradition that holds that this secret name is not so much the key by which the magician can gain power over a subject as it is a monogram by which things can be liberated from language. The secret name is the name the being received in Eden. If it is spoken aloud, all its apparent names fall away; the whole Babel of names disappears. ‘To have a name is to be guilty. And justice, like magic, is nameless’ (P, 22). The secret name is the gesture that restores the creature to the unexpressed. Thus, Agamben argues, magic is not the secret knowledge of names and their transcendent meaning, but a breaking free from the name. ‘Happy and without a name, the creature knocks at the gates of the land of the magi, who speaks in gestures alone’ (P, 22).”
~ Anke Snoek, Agamben’s Joyful Kafka (pp. 110118, Kindle Locations 2704-2883)

The Case of the Missing Concepts

Hypocognition, in cognitive linguistics, means missing and being unable to communicate cognitive and linguistic representations because there are no words for particular concepts.”

* * *

The enthusiasm for evidence-based medicine (EBM) has not been accompanied by the same success in bridging the gap between theory and practice. This paper advances the hypothesis that the phenomenon psychologists call hypocognition may hinder the development of EBM. People tend to respond to frames rather than to facts. To be accepted, a theory, however robust, must fit into a person’s mental framework. The absence of a simple, consolidated framework is referred to as hypocognition. Hypocognition might limit the application of EBM in three ways. First, it fails to provide an analytical framework by which to orient the physician in the direction of continuous medical development and variability in individual people’s responses. Second, little emphasis is placed on teaching clinical reasoning. Third, there is an imbalance between the enormous mass of available information and the practical possibilities. Possible solutions are described. We not only need more evidence to help clinicians make better decisions, but also need more research on why some clinicians make better decisions than others, how to teach clinical reasoning, and whether computerised supports can promote a higher quality of individualised care.”

* * *

Americans, especially, suffer from what linguists call hypocognition: the lack of a core concept we need in order to thrive. The missing concept is of democracy as a way of life; democracy not as a set system–something done to us, for us, finished and done–but as a set of system values that usefully apply in all arenas of life. In the dominant, failing idea of democracy, society is a subset of economic life. To make the needed planetary turn to life, we must envision the opposite: economic life re-embedded in society guided by shared human values, including fairness, inclusion, and mutual accountability.”

* * *

Frances Moore Lappe (Hope’s Edge, 2002) makes the case that often politicians and corporations use terms that leave us suffering from “hypocognition.” Hypocognition results when a term is used to conjure up all-positive images to prevent us from understanding what is really going on. For example, hypocognition makes it hard for the public to believe there can be anything wrong with “globalism” or “free trade,” which sound like the apple pie and motherhood of the 21st century. It is easy for the press to portray those who protest against “free trade” as fringe lunatics.

“Ms. Lappe coined the term “primitive marketism” as a more appropriate name for what has become the accepted standard of world trade over the last 20 years — that the single principle of highest return to existing wealth is the sole driver of the world-wide system of production and exchange. That leaves cultural integrity, human rights, environmental protection, and even the ability of people to feed themselves as inconsequential to multinational corporations reaching around the world for opportunities for the highest return to existing wealth.

“As much as the term “primitive marketism” helps identify problems inherent to the way global trade is structured today, it takes a bit of bending of the mind and tongue to use it. It seems to me that a term that more immediately and clearly identifies where we are headed with world trade — a term which leaves no room for hypocognition — is “corporate colonialism.””

* * *

This perspective on reason matters to the discussion in this forum about global warming, because many people engaged in environmentalism still have the old, false view of reason and language. Folks trained in public policy, science, economics, and law are often given the old, false view. As a result, they may believe that if you just tell people the facts, they will reason to the right conclusion. What actually happens is that the facts must make sense in terms of their system of frames, or they will be ignored. The facts, to be communicated, must be framed properly. Furthermore, to understand something complex, a person must have a system of frames in place that can make sense of the facts. In the case of global warming, all too many people do not have such a system of frames in the conceptual systems in their brains. Such frame systems have to be built up over a period of time. This has not been done.” (pp. 72-73)

“Have you ever wondered why conservatives can communicate easily in a few words, while liberals take paragraphs? The reason is that conservatives have spent decades, day after day building up frames in people’s brains, and building a better communication system to get their ideas out in public. Progressives have not done that.” (p. 73)

“The right language is absolutely necessary for communicating ‘‘the real crisis.’’(p. 74)

“‘Hypocognition’ is the lack of ideas we need. We are suffering from massive hypocognition in the case of the environment.” (p. 76)

“An important frame is in throes of being born: The Regulated Commons – the idea of common, non-transferable ownership of aspects of the natural world, such as the atmosphere, the airwaves, the waterways, the oceans, and so on.” (p. 78)

* * *

Not all corrections to hypocognition have to be heavy stuff, like grief and scientific advancement. One of my favorite authors tried to give everything a word. Douglas Adams, author of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series, put out a book with John Lloyd called, The Meaning of Liff. It started as a slightly-drunken party game, during which Adams and his friends picked out the names of English towns and pretended the names were words that they had to define. As they were coming up with different definitions, they realized that, as humans, they all shared common experiences that don’t have names.

“My favorite word of the book is “shoeburyness,” which is defined as “the vague uncomfortable feeling you get when sitting on a seat which is still warm from somebody else’s bottom.” Everyone has felt that. One author I read went to a strict college at which men were forbidden to sit in a seat directly after a woman vacated it, because he would feel her residual body heat and the dean of women considered that too sexual. But no one came up with a word for it. Once there is a word for it, people can begin to refer to it. What concept do you think needs a word? I nominate “splincing” — when you’re completely in the wrong, and hate it, and you daydream about someone wronging you so you can feel righteously aggrieved about something.”

Kafka On Parables And Metaphors, Writing And Language

I was contemplating the difficulties of communication and the attendant frustrations of the media and methods through which we seek to express. Or, to put it simply, I was annoyed at goddamn words, the slippery little devils that won’t say what I want them to say. And so I was reminded of Franz Kafka.

Instead of offering an analysis and personal reflection (which would be boring), I’ll just let Kafka speak in his many voices.

* * * *


Many complain that the words of the wise are always merely parables and of no use in daily life, which is the only life we have. When the sage says: “Go over,” he does not mean that we should cross over to some actual place, which we could do anyhow if the labor were worth it; he means some fabulous yonder, something unknown to us, something too that he cannot designate more precisely, and therefore cannot help us here in the very least. All these parables really set out to say merely that the incomprehensible is incomprehensible, and we know that already. But the cares we have to struggle with every day: that is a different matter.

Concerning this a man once said: Why such reluctance? If you only followed the parables you yourselves would become parables and with that rid yourself of all your daily cares.

Another said: I bet that is also a parable.

The first said: You have won.

The second said: But unfortunately only in parable.

The first said: No, in reality: in parable you have lost.

Parables and paradoxes by Franz Kafka, tr. by Clement Greenberg and als., Schocken Books, 1961, p. 11. Available online.

* * * *


How many words there are in the book! They are meant to be reminders! As though words could ever be reminders!

For words are poor mountaineers and miners. They collect treasures neither from the mountain heights nor from the mountain depths.

But there is a living remembrance that gently brushed across everything memorable as if with a coaxing hand. And when the blaze arises from these ashes, glowing and hot, massive and strong, and you stare into it as though under a magic spell, then–

But into this chaste remembrance, one cannot inscribe oneself with a clumsy hand and blunt implement; one can do it only in these white, unassuming pages.

Kafka, Franz (2013-09-11). Abandoned Fragments: Unedited Works 1897-1917 (Kindle Locations 36-41). . Kindle Edition.

* * * *


Metaphors are one among many things which make me despair of writing . Writing’s lack of independence of the world, its dependence on the maid who tends the fire, on the cat warming itself by the stove; it is even dependent on the poor old human being warming himself by the stove. All these are independent activities ruled by their own laws; only writing is helpless, cannot live in itself, is a joke and a despair.

Kafka, Franz (2009-01-16). Diaries, 1910-1923 (Schocken Classics Series) (Kindle Locations 6607-6610). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
Diary entry, December 6, 1921

Have never understood how it is possible for almost everyone who writes to objectify his sufferings in the very midst of undergoing them; thus I, for example, in the midst of my unhappiness, in all likelihood with my head still smarting from unhappiness, sit down and write to someone: I am unhappy. Yes , I can even go beyond that and with as many flourishes as I have the talent for, all of which seem to have nothing to do with my unhappiness, ring simple, or contrapuntal, or a whole orchestration of changes on my theme. And it is not a lie, and it does not still my pain; it is simply a merciful surplus of strength at a moment when suffering has raked me to the bottom of my being and plainly exhausted all my strength. But then what kind of surplus is it?

Kafka, Franz (2009-01-16). Diaries, 1910-1923 (Schocken Classics Series) (p. 384). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
Diary entry, September 19, 1920(?)

I don’t even have the desire to keep a diary, perhaps because there is already too much lacking in it, perhaps because I should perpetually have to describe incomplete— by all appearances necessarily incomplete— actions, perhaps because writing itself adds to my sadness.

I would gladly write fairy tales (why do I hate the word so?) that could please W. and that she might sometimes keep under the table at meals, read between courses and blush fearfully when she noticed that the sanatorium doctor has been standing behind her for a little while now and watching her. Her excitement sometimes— or really all of the time— when she hears stories.

I notice that I am afraid of the almost physical strain of the effort to remember, afraid of the pain beneath which the floor of the thoughtless vacuum of the mind slowly opens up, or even merely heaves up a little in preparation. All things resist being written down.

Brod, Max (2013-04-16). The Diaries Of Franz Kafka 1910-1913 (Kindle Locations 3829-3836). Read Books Ltd.. Kindle Edition.
Diary entry, October 20, 1913(?)

If one patiently submits to a book of letters or memoirs, no matter by whom, in this case it is Karl Stauffer-Bern, one doesn’t make him one’s own by main strength, for to do this one has to employ art, and art is its own reward; but rather one suffers oneself to be drawn away— this is easily done, if one doesn’t resist— by the concentrated otherness of the person writing and lets oneself be made into his counterpart. Thus it is no longer remarkable, when one is brought back to one’s self by the closing of the book, that one feels the better for this excursion and this recreation, and, with a clearer head, remains behind in one’s own being, which has been newly discovered, newly shaken up and seen for a moment from the distance. Only later are we surprised that these experiences of another person’s life, in spite of their vividness, are faithfully described in the book—our own experience inclines us to think that nothing in the world is further removed from an experience (sorrow over the death of a friend, for instance) than its description. But what is right for us is not right for the other person. If our letters cannot match our own feelings— naturally, there are varying degrees of this, passing imperceptibly into one another in both directions—if even at our best, expressions like “indescribable,”“inexpressible,” or “so sad,” or “so beautiful,” followed by a rapidly collapsing “that”-clause, must perpetually come to our assistance , then as if in compensation we have been given the ability to comprehend what another person has written with at least the same degree of calm exactitude which we lack when we confront our own letter-writing. Our ignorance of those feelings which alternately make us crumple up and pull open again the letter in front of us, this very ignorance becomes knowledge the moment we are compelled to limit ourselves to this letter, to believe only what it says, and thus to find it perfectly expressed and perfect in expression, as is only right, if we are to see a clear road into what is most human. So Karl Stauffer’s letters contain only an account of the short life of an artist——

Brod, Max (2013-04-16). The Diaries Of Franz Kafka 1910-1913 (Kindle Locations 2171-2186). Read Books Ltd.. Kindle Edition.
Diary entry, December 9, (?)

* * * *


But it’s good when your conscience receives big wounds, because that makes it more sensitive to every twinge. I think we ought to read only the kind of books that wound and stab us. If the book we’re reading doesn’t wake us up with a blow on the head, what are we reading it for ? So that it will make us happy, as you write? Good Lord, we would be happy precisely if we had no books, and the kind of books that make us happy are the kind we could write ourselves if we had to. But we need the books that affect us like a disaster, that grieve us deeply, like the death of someone we loved more than ourselves, like being banished into forests far from everyone, like a suicide. A book must be the axe for the frozen sea inside us. That is my belief.

Kafka, Franz (2013-06-26). Letters to Friends, Family and Editors (Kindle Locations 380-385). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
Letter to Oskar Pollak, January 27, 1904

Despite all this, writing really is a good thing; I am now calmer than I was 2 hours ago outside on the balcony with your letter. While I was lying there a beetle had fallen on its back one step away and was desperately trying to right itself; I would have gladly helped —it was so easy, so obvious, all that was required was a step and a small shove— but I forgot about it because of your letter; I was just as incapable of getting up. Only a lizard again made me aware of the life around me, its path led over the beetle, which was already so completely still that I said to myself, this was not an accident but death throes, the rarely witnessed drama of an animal’s natural death; but when the lizard slid off the beetle, the beetle was righted although it did lie there a little longer as if dead, but then ran up the wall of the house as if nothing had happened. Somehow this probably gave me, too, a little courage; I got up, drank some milk and wrote to you.

Kafka, Franz (2013-06-26). Letters to Milena (Works) (Kindle Locations 333-340). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
Leter to Milena, Meran, 1920

Now I have expanded my life to accommodate my thoughts about you, and there is hardly a quarter of an hour of my waking time when I haven’t thought about you, and many quarter-hours when I do nothing else . But even this is related to my writing, my life is determined by nothing but the ups and downs of writing, and certainly during a barren period I should never have had the courage to turn to you. This is just as true as it is true that since that evening I have felt as though I had an opening in my chest through which there was an unrestrained drawing-in and drawing-out until one evening in bed, when, by calling to mind a story from the Bible, the necessity of this sensation, as well as the truth of the Bible story, were simultaneously confirmed.

Lately I have found to my amazement how intimately you have now become associated with my writing, although until recently I believed that the only time I did not think about you at all was while I was writing. In one short paragraph I had written, there were, among others, the following references to you and your letters : Someone was given a bar of chocolate. There was talk of small diversions someone had during working hours. Then there was a telephone call. And finally somebody urged someone to go to bed, and threatened to take him straight to his room if he did not obey, which was certainly prompted by the recollection of your mother’s annoyance when you stayed so late at the office. 26 —Such passages are especially dear to me; in them I take hold of you , without your feeling it, and therefore without your having to resist. And even if you were to read some of my writings, these little details would surely escape you. But believe me, probably nowhere in the world could you let yourself be caught with greater unconcern than here.

My mode of life is devised solely for writing, and if there are any changes, then only for the sake of perhaps fitting in better with my writing; for time is short, my strength is limited, the office is a horror , the apartment is noisy, and if a pleasant, straightforward life is not possible then one must try to wriggle through by subtle maneuvers. The satisfaction gained by maneuvering one’s timetable successfully cannot be compared to the permanent misery of knowing that fatigue of any kind shows itself better and more clearly in writing than anything one is really trying to say.

Kafka, Franz (2013-06-26). Letters to Felice (Kindle Locations 800-817). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
Letter to Fraulein Felice, November 1, 1912

Poor, poor dearest, may you never feel compelled to read this miserable novel I keep writing away at so dismally. It is terrible how it can change its appearance; once the load (the ardor I write with! How the inkspots fly!) is on the cart, I am all right; I delight in cracking the whip and am a man of importance; but once it falls off the cart (which cannot be foreseen, prevented, or concealed), as it did yesterday and today, then it feels excessively heavy for my pitiful shoulders; all I want to do then is abandon everything and dig my grave on the spot. After all, there can be no more beautiful spot to die in , no spot more worthy of total despair, than one’s own novel.

Kafka, Franz (2013-06-26). Letters to Felice (Kindle Locations 3346-3351). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
Letter to Felice, January 5 to 6, 1913

How is it possible to write at all if one has so much to say and knows that the pen can only trace an uncertain and random trail through the mass of what has to be said?

Kafka, Franz (2013-06-26). Letters to Felice (Kindle Locations 3398-3399). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
Letter to Felice, January 6 to 7, 1913

Help me, dearest, I beg you, to put right the damage I have done in the last few days. Perhaps in fact nothing whatever has happened, and you wouldn’t have noticed anything if I hadn’t shouted about it, but I am driven by this feeling of anxiety in the midst of my lethargy, and I write, or fear I may at any moment write, irresponsible things. The wrong sentences lie in wait about my pen, twine themselves around its point, and are dragged along into the letters. I am not of the opinion that one can ever lack the power to express perfectly what one wants to write or say. Observations on the weakness of language, and comparisons between the limitations of words and the infinity of feelings, are quite fallacious. The infinite feeling continues to be as infinite in words as it was in the heart. What is clear within is bound to become so in words as well. This is why one need never worry about language, but at sight of words may often worry about oneself. 57 After all, who knows within himself how things really are with him? This tempestuous or floundering or morasslike inner self is what we really are, but by the secret process by which words are forced out of us, our self-knowledge is brought to light, and though it may still be veiled, yet it is there before us, wonderful or terrible to behold.

So protect me, dearest, from these horrible words of which I have recently been delivering myself. Tell me that you understand it all, and yet go on loving me. The other day I wrote some offensive things about Lasker -Schüler and Schnitzler. How very right I was! And yet they both soar like angels over the abyss in which I lie prostrate. And Max’s praise! He doesn’t actually praise my book; after all, the book exists, and his judgment could be examined, should anyone feel so inclined; but it is me he praises, and this is the most ridiculous of all. For where am I? Who can examine me? I wish I had a strong hand for the sole purpose of thrusting it into this incoherent construction that I am. And yet what I am saying here is not even precisely my opinion , not even precisely my opinion at this moment. When I look into myself I see so much that is obscure and still in flux that I cannot even properly explain or fully accept the dislike I feel for myself.

Dearest, what do you say when you come face to face with such chaos? Is it not sadder and more repellent for the observer than for him who experiences it? Certainly, incomparably sadder and more repellent. I can imagine the strength it must take not to run away from it. While I, as I freely admit, write it all down quite calmly.

Kafka, Franz (2013-06-26). Letters to Felice (Kindle Locations 4524-4542). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
Leter to Felice, February 18 to 19, 1913

You are right, Felice; recently I have sometimes had to force myself to write to you ; but writing to you and living have drawn very near to each other, and I also have to force myself to live. Shouldn’t I?

Moreover, hardly a word comes to me from the fundamental source, but is seized upon fortuitously and with great difficulty somewhere along the way. When I was in the swing of writing and living, I once wrote to you that no true feeling need search for corresponding words, but is confronted or even impelled by them. Perhaps this is not quite true, after all. 68

But how could my writing to you, however firm my hand, achieve everything I want to achieve: To convince you that my two requests are equally serious: “Go on loving me” and “Hate me!”

Kafka, Franz (2013-06-26). Letters to Felice (Kindle Locations 5080-5086). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
Letter to Felice, March 17 to 18, 1913

Writing does make things clearer, yet at the same time worse.

Kafka, Franz (2013-06-26). Letters to Felice (Kindle Location 6214). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
Leter to Felice, June 27, 1913

I did not say that writing ought to make everything clearer, but instead makes everything worse; what I said was that writing makes everything clearer and worse.

Kafka, Franz (2013-06-26). Letters to Felice (Kindle Locations 6458-6459). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
Letter to Felice, July [presumably August] 1, 1913

Each of us has his own way of emerging from the underworld, mine is by writing. That’s why the only way I can keep going, if at all , is by writing, not through rest and sleep. I am far more likely to achieve peace of mind through writing than the capacity to write through peace.

Kafka, Franz (2013-06-26). Letters to Felice (Kindle Locations 9113-9115). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
Letter to Grete Bloch, June 6, 1914

Last night as I lay sleepless and let everything continually veer back and forth between my aching temples, what I had almost forgotten during the last relatively quiet time became clear to me: namely, on what frail ground or rather altogether nonexistent ground I live, over a darkness from which the dark power emerges when it wills and, heedless of my stammering, destroys my life. Writing sustains me, but is it not more accurate to say that it sustains this kind of life? By this I don’t mean, of course, that my life is better when I don’t write. Rather it is much worse then and wholly unbearable and has to end in madness. But that, granted, only follows from the postulate that I am a writer, which is actually true even when I am not writing, and a nonwriting writer is a monster inviting madness. But what about being a writer itself? Writing is a sweet and wonderful reward, but for what? In the night it became clear to me, as clear as a child’s lesson book, that it is the reward for serving the devil. This descent to the dark powers , this unshackling of spirits bound by nature, these dubious embraces and whatever else may take place in the nether parts which the higher parts no longer know, when one writes one’s stories in the sunshine. Perhaps there are other forms of writing, but I know only this kind; at night, when fear keeps me from sleeping, I know only this kind. And the diabolic element in it seems very clear to me. It is vanity and sensuality which continually buzz about one’s own or even another’s form— and feast on him. The movement multiplies itself— it is a regular solar system of vanity. Sometimes a naïve person will wish, “I would like to be dead and see how everyone mourns me.” Such a writer is continually staging such a scene: He dies (or rather he does not live ) and continually mourns himself. From this springs a terrible fear of death, which need not reveal itself as fear of death but may also appear as fear of change, as fear of Georgental. The reasons for this fear of death may be divided into two main categories. First he has a terrible fear of dying because he has not yet lived . By this I do not mean that wife and child, fields and cattle are essential to living. What is essential to life is only to forgo complacency, to move into the house instead of admiring it and hanging garlands around it. In reply to this, one might say that this is a matter of fate and is not given into anyone’s hand. But then why this sense of repining, this repining that never ceases? To make oneself finer and more savory? That is a part of it. But why do such nights leave one always with the refrain: I could live and I do not live . The second reason— perhaps it is all really one, the two do not want to stay apart for me now— is the belief: “What I have playacted is really going to happen. I have not bought myself off by my writing. I died my whole life long and now I will really die. My life was sweeter than other peoples’ and my death will be more terrible by the same degree. Of course the writer in me will die right away, since such a figure has no base, no substance, is less than dust. He is only barely possible in the broil of earthly life, is only a construct of sensuality. That is your writer for you. But I myself cannot go on living because I have not lived , I have remained clay, I have not blown the spark into fire, but only used it to light up my corpse .” It will be a strange burial: the writer, insubstantial as he is, consigning the old corpse, the longtime corpse, to the grave. I am enough of a writer to appreciate the scene with all my senses, or— and it is the same thing— to want to describe it with total self-forgetfulness— not alertness, but self-forgetfulness is the writer’s first prerequisite. But there will be no more of such describing. But why am I talking of actual dying? It is just the same in life. I sit here in the comfortable posture of the writer, ready for all sorts of fine things, and must idly look on—for what can I do but write?— as my true ego, this wretched, defenseless ego, is nipped by the devil’s pincers, cudgeled, and almost ground to pieces on a random pretext—a little trip to Georgental. […] The existence of a writer is an argument against the existence of the soul, for the soul has obviously taken flight from the real ego, but not improved itself, only become a writer .

Kafka, Franz (2013-06-26). Letters to Friends, Family and Editors . Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

* * * *


Franz Kafka on Writing – Whistling Shade
By Bob Blaisdell

Aspergers and Chunking

I was reading Ungifted: Intelligence Redefined by Scott Barry Kaufman. I came across a section about Aspergers. The more I’ve read about it over the years the more I suspect that I have some form of it.*

A theory on Autism is that it is strong focus on details which can lead to not seeing the forest for the trees, but if high functioning enough this can be compensated for. The Aspie takes in so many details that this can lead to distraction and cognitive overload. There are two primary ways of dealing with this. First, Aspies might limit their interactions and narrow their focus to create a more manageable space in which to think and to feel more comfortable. Second, Aspies often learn to chunk information.

The second method is what I learned as a child when I was living in Deerfield, Illinois (a wealthy Jewish suburb of Chicago; more on this below). I was having trouble with reading and I stuttered. I had a hard time saying what a word was or even recalling the names of my friends, but I could describe what I meant when I wasn’t stuttering and the only reason I was stuttering was because I couldn’t recall.

I went to speech therapy, but even the therapist wasn’t sure my precise problem. This therapist and my mom, who also was a speech therapist, went to a talk given by Diane J. German from Northwestern University who maybe was working on her PhD dissertation at the time (my mom thinks this was in 1982 since I was diagnosed in first grade when I was 6 years old). She is now a professor emeritus at National Louis University. At the time, German was working on a new test for word recall issues. Here is an article about her work:

“The look on these children’s faces captures the problem in the most compelling way,” says Diane German, the principal researcher, who specializes in disorders of word-finding and a special education professor at National-Louis University in Chicago, Illinois. “They really struggle when they have to read a simple word like ‘nest’ out loud. Some grimace, others look stuck. Some just blurt out an answer that’s almost always wrong. Yet when asked to point to the same word on a page, they almost always get it right. Clearly they’ve got a problem and need help, but it’s not that they lack reading skills.”

One child in the study, previously diagnosed with these “word-finding” difficulties, couldn’t say “cocoon” as he tried to read a story aloud. When he got to the word, he stumbled and added, “You know, it is that brown thing hanging in the tree.”

“Clearly, this child had managed to ‘read’ the word to himself and comprehend it, or he could never have come up with that kind of description,” explains psychologist Rochelle Newman, co-author of the study and a University of Maryland professor of hearing and speech sciences. “He just couldn’t retrieve the sound pattern of the word.”

(Another piece by her: “Ask Yourself, Are You Doing Enough for Your Learners with Word Finding Difficulties?)

They immediately recognized that German was talking about my issues. German was looking to do a study. So, my mom did some of the testing for German’s study, but my mom recalls German coming to our house and testing me herself. That is how I became one of the kids used as a subject in her study. And that was the beginning of how I, unlike so many other kids, escaped the trap of sub-par remedial education and a life of low expectations.

My mom and the therapist learned about this new field of word recall issues. Before that time, no one was discussing any of this and speech therapists weren’t being taught about it. It was serendipity that I was beginning school at the time and nearby where this new field was being developed. With this new knowledge, my mom worked with my therapist to help me with word recall (along with a learning disability therapist, Diane Redfield, who taught me to read).

One of the things that helped me the most was the information chunking. My mom explained that this had to do with not just grouping similar words. It has to do with looking at words from every angle in order to understand its different aspects. It is a shifting of perspective and a breaking down into component parts. This is what allows word groupings to be useful. Grouping words goes hand in hand with chunking information. The more kinds of groupings and chunkings the increased capacity to think and communicate clearly.

I had an example of this just last night. I was thinking of early 20th century anarchists and I was trying to recall one specific person. From the word ‘anarchist’, I thought of women’s clinic. Then from that I connected to the last name Goldman. Once I had the last name, I could recall the first name and so had the full name: Emma Goldman. I couldn’t just pull the name out by itself. I had to go through a process to get to it.

That isn’t my only method. I also use something similar to chunking that is more on a feeling level. I get an overall sense of something, a person or an idea or whatever. Once I have that sense, I just have to switch into the right state of mind and slowly feel into it. Anything I’m familiar with has a feeling-sense associated with it. This form of recall isn’t always efficient, but it works when I can’t use a direct chain of connections. This feeling-sense is very useful in general, though, for it allows me to chunk info in larger ways and helps me in feeling out patterns by sensing resonances.

All of this fits into why I’ve come to suspect I have Aspergers or something very similar. The one thing that demonstrated I wasn’t low IQ as a child was my ability to see patterns. This is also a talent of many Aspies. It is because Aspies see things in chunks of details that they are able to more flexibly scan for patterns. It is precisely where various chunks crossover that a whole begins to form, but this is building from the bottom up.

I do this in my thinking and writing. When taken to its extreme, I call them thought-webs. Connections form, connections build upon connections, and then a sense of meaning emerges from that. It is an organic process of synthesizing, rather than analyzing, although analyzing may follow as a secondary process. It is looking to the data to speak for itself, finding the harmony between the seemingly diparate.

It has its strengths and weaknesses. It is greatest strength is for research. My Asperger-like extraverted intuition (MBTI Ne) goes off in a million directions finding all the details until my brain is overloaded. Then begins the filtering and consolidating of it all into a unique synthesis, but that last part can be a doozy. I sometimes never get past the brain overload.

* More recently, I’ve learned of specific language impairment. It can have behavioral symptoms similar to autism, but it’s a different condition and much more common. It’s another possibility in describing my own difficulties, as much of it fits my experience.

As a side note, there is a reason I mentioned above that Deerfield is a wealthy Jewish suburb of Chicago. Here is an interesting detail of Deerfield’s history (from Wikipedia):

“In 1959, when Deerfield officials learned that a developer building a neighborhood of large new homes planned to make houses available to African Americans, they issued a stop-work order. An intense debate began about racial integration, property values, and the good faith of community officials and builders. For a brief time, Deerfield was spotlighted in the national news as “the Little Rock of the North.” Supporters of integration were denounced and ostracized by angry residents. Eventually, the village passed a referendum to build parks on the property, thus putting an end to the housing development. Two model homes already partially completed were sold to village officials. The remaining land lay dormant for years before it was developed into what is now Mitchell Pool and Park and Jaycee Park. At the time, Deerfield’s black population was 12 people out of a total population of 11,786. This episode in Deerfield’s history is described in But Not Next Door by Harry and David Rosen, both residents of Deerfield.
“Since the early 1980s, however, Deerfield has seen a large influx of Jews and, more recently, Asians and Greeks, giving the community a more diverse ethnic makeup.”

I guess it was a wealthy Jewish suburb of Chicago that has become a wealthy Jewish, Asian and Greek suburb of Chicago.

I can tell you one thing for certain. Few poor kids, especially poor minorities, are privileged in the way I was by my early education opportunities. I went to a public school in Deerfield, but that is way different than going to a public school in the inner city of Chicago. If I had been a poor black kid in a poor black neighborhood, I would have been designated low IQ and that would have been the end of it.

How many poor black kids failing in school are as intelligent as I am? The evidence points to the answer being many.

It is one thing to experience something like a learning disability or Aspergers. It is a whole other matter to deal with a learning disability or Aspergers while dealing with poverty and prejudice.

Even ignoring racism, classism by itself is a powerful form of prejudice. My mom was raised working class and she raised us with a working class sensibility. This meant she dressed us working class. My older brother was ridiculed in the Deerfield public school. It scarred him for life and it contributed to his hatred of school ever after. Part of that had to do with our having previously lived in Bellefontaine, Ohio which is a factory town at the edge of Appalachia. Apparently, we had picked up a bit of Appalachian speech, in that the rich kids in Deerfield ridiculed Clay for saying ‘zeero’ when meaning ‘zero’.

It was a clear giveaway to our class background. So, even though we were technically upper middle class because my dad was a factory manager, we were new money upper middle class and the other kids knew it. I was, at that time, fortunate enough to have been too young to understand and maybe, because of my Aspergers, too socially oblivious to care.

If such minor forms of prejudice could have such powerful impact on my brother, imagine what more severe (and systemic) forms of prejudice will do to a child. To this day, my brother remains traumatized from his childhood experience of class prejudice and, sadly, has internalized it in ridiculing his ‘white trash’ neighbors in the small working class town he now lives in. Racism and classism, they are shitty mentalities that cause much damage, but unless you’ve been on the receiving end of prejudice it is hard to understand and appreciate.

* * *

Below is part of the section from Ungifted where Aspergers is discussed.

pp. 223-226:

An alternative perspective, which has gained a lot of research support in recent years, is that autism is merely a different way of processing incoming information. 23 Individuals with ASD have a greater attention to detail and tend to adopt a bottom-up strategy— they first perceive the parts of an object and then build up to the whole. 24 As Uta Frith puts it, people with autism have difficulty “seeing the forest for the trees.” There is neurological evidence that the unique mind of the person with ASD is due in part to an excessive number of short-distance, disorganized local connections in the prefrontal cortex (required for attention to detail) along with a reduced number of long-range or global connections necessary for integrating information from widespread and diverse brain regions. 25 As a result, people with high-functioning autism tend to have difficulty switching attention from the local to the global level. 26

This sometimes plays itself out in social communications. People with ASD focus on details in the environment most people find “irrelevant,” which can lead to some awkward social encounters. When people with ASD are shown photographs with social information (such as friends chatting) or movie clips from soap operas, their attention is focused much less on the people’s faces and eyes than the background scenery, such as light switches. 27 Differences among toddlers in attention to social speech is a robust predictor of ASD, and social attention differences in preschool lead to a deficit in theory of mind. 28 This is important , considering that an early lack of attention to social information can deprive the developing child of the social inputs and learning opportunities they require to develop expertise in social cognition. 29 It’s likely that from multiple unrewarding social interactions during the course of development, people with ASD learn that social interactions are unrewarding, and retreat even further into themselves.

Kate O’Connor and Ian Kirk argue that the atypical social behaviors found in people with ASD are more likely the result of a processing difference than a social deficit, and may represent a strategy to filter out too much sensory information . 30 Indeed , people with ASD often report emotional confusion during social interactions, in which they interpret expressions, gestures, and body language to mean something different from or even the opposite of what the other person intended. 31 Many people with ASD report that the eye region is particularly “confusing” and “frightening.” 32

Indeed, the eye region is very complex, transmitting a lot of information in a brief time span. For one thing, it’s always in motion (blinking, squinting, saccadic movement, and so on). But the eye region also can depict a wide range of emotions in rapid succession. It’s likely that over the course of many overwhelming interactions with people in the context of other sensory information coming in from the environment, people with ASD learn to look less at the eye region of faces. 33 People with ASD do frequently report being distracted by sensory information in the environment, including background noise, fluorescent light, shiny objects, body movement, and smells. 34

[ . . . ]

One robust finding is that people with ASD have enhanced perceptual functioning. 40 People with ASD tend to perform better than people without ASD symptoms on IQ subtests that involve nonverbal fluid reasoning and the segmentation and reconstruction of novel visual designs. 41 Individuals with ASD also perform better than controls on the Embedded Figures Task (EFT), which requires quick detection of a target within a complex pattern. 42 The ASD tendency to see patterns as collections of details instead of as wholes helps people with ASD to segment and chunk visual information, freeing up visual working memory resources and allowing them to handle a higher perceptual load than typical adults. 43

Maps Are Fun: US Data

Valparaiso University in Northern Indiana has a website where they maintain some pages of resources with great maps. I’ve often made use of their page of religious distribution maps, having just based a post on the religious adherents map. However, I hadn’t previously explored the full array of maps they have, in which a lot of info is contained and elegantly conveyed.

I’ll begin with the ethnic groups maps which match many of the religious maps as ethnicity and religion tend to go hand in hand; one interesting pattern being how some of the border states in the Upper South include religious groups more typical of the North such as Quakers, Mennonites, and Amish; from the culture regions maps page, there are three maps that show the Midlands influence of the Midwest and Upper South: Diffusion of the Midland CultureColonial Culture Hearths, and Contemporary Culture Areas. I’ve used the ethnic groups maps before, such as with my post on the North/South divide. Some patterns begin to appear when you look across the almost 50 ethnic groups maps available. Some of the patterns are predictable, but it is surprising where some ethnic groups are found and not.

Native Americans have some predictable patterns. They are found mostly in the West and there is that concentration in Oklahoma, but right next to Oklahoma is Texas which is empty of Native Americans despite being nearly surrounded by states with concentrations of them. There are intriguing clumps of Native Americans in North Carolina which makes sense if you know the history, and that interests me as much of my family came through there. North Carolina and contiguous states form the area of Native American mixed ancestry. One of my North Carolina and Appalachian family lines has a name (Tolliver) that is found among some Melungeons. What many people don’t think about, though, is that there are also a fair amount of Native Americans in the Upper Midwest.

One of the more interesting maps is that of leading minority group by county. The Solid South isn’t just about party politics. Even their minorities lack much diversity, at least in terms which ethnic minorities dominate. All across the North, on the other hand, has a vast diversity of minorities. The only part of the South that has much minority diversity is the the border states of the Upper South which were influenced by similar migration patterns as the Midwest. Actually, the map is deceiving. The Midwest isn’t just about ethnic diversity, but a particular kind of multiculturalism. This map shows where ethnic groups have maintained coherency in a particular area, counties in this case. That was a common settlement pattern in the Midwest where a single ethnic group would settle together in the same county, town or neighborhood. Going to the culture regions maps page, there are two maps that clarify this. The concentration of ethnic islands are in the Western Midwest, the Upper Midwest and in one area of Texas. The other map showing a border area of Minnesota and Wisconsin gives a clear example of how these ethnic islands cluster together.

There is a subset of the maps that offer a fascinating viewpoint: absence of particular ethnic groups. However, it isn’t an entirely fair portrayal. Absence is defined as having fewer than 25 members of an ethnic group in counties. Some counties have an absence of large populations in the first place and so you have to take these maps with a grain of salt. With that in mind:

The absence of Native Americans/Alaska Natives and the absence of Asians is mostly found in a corridor starting in Texas going up to North Dakota, including surrounding states and with significant areas of the South, both Upper South and Deep South. The only partial exception in the corridor is Oklahoma that has an absence of Asians but not of Natives Americans/Alaska Natives. Florida similarly is an exception to the patterns of the South. As for absence of Blacks, the same pattern holds except for the Deep South, of course.  Absence of Hispanics is a much smaller area, though, with it almost entirely being located in the Mid-Northwest with its greatest concentration in the most northern states. This same area has an absence of minorities of all varieties.

When you look at the Percent Mexican map, the obvious pattern is shown which about everyone knows without looking at any map. However, the Midwest has a fair amount of Mexicans as well, especially Illinois with Chicago. In Iowa, there are 8 counties with 13-26% of the population being Mexican; and it is similar for Minnesota, but not Wisconsin. What stuck out to me is that there are 4% or less in the entire Northeast.

The Northeast, in general, isn’t lacking in ethnic diversity. There is the typical pattern of ethnic diversity that the Northeast shares with the Midwest (because of the influence of the multicultural tradition of the Mid-Atlantic states going back to the Middle Colonies). Beyond that, there is an odd similarity between the specific ethnic groups of the North and the the specific ethnic groups of Florida with the Southern region in between being almost entirely empty of these ethnic groups; also, California and Texas often though not always fits in with this pattern, specifically in terms of the migration pattern that went from the Midwest to California and Texas: GermanDutch, CzechSwedish, Lebanese, Hungarian, Polish, Ukranian, RussianItalian, Greek, Arab, Puerto Rican, Cuban, Korean, and maybe others could be added as well. In some cases, this pattern shows a link of the Northeast and/or the North with Louisiana (because of the Canadian influence), along with some of that connection to Florida and the West Coast: French and French Canadians. The Northeast sometimes and the Midwest more often, especially the Upper Midwest, also matches up with all those other Northern European ethnic groups that particularly became concentrated mostly in the furthest north states and all away over to the Northwest — along with those Northern European ethnic groups already listed above, often along with Eastern European ethnic groups: Scandanavian, Norwegian, Danish, Icelandic, and Finnish.

All of those ethnic groups I just listed are miniscule minorities in the South, excepting for some of the Gulf of Mexico states of Florida, Louisiana and Texas which were originally part of the Spanish Empire. There was another pattern in the South that really stands out. It’s not just about who is and isn’t in the South, but who is and isn’t in particular areas of the South. Where Blacks and African Americans are most concentrated is precisely where there is a scarcity of Scots-Irish, Scottish and Irish; and vice versa. I can’t recollect any other regional pattern that so starkly mirrors that inverse relation in the South.

The map gallery of language is a great way to get past the superficial Melting Pot view of America. Many non-English languages have been spoken throughout American history and many of these languages remain spoken in the original settlement areas of the respective ethnic groups.

Native American speakers are where you’d expect them to be as that is where the US government put Native Americans. On the West Coast and in the Southwest, there are the unsurprising concentrations of non-English speakers, specifically Spanish speakers and Chinese speakers; along with the unsurprising concentration of the former in Florida and the more surprising significant numbers of the latter in the Northeast as well. There is that pattern I’ve pointed out before connecting the Northeast and Lousiana with French speakers which also includes the pattern connecting the Northeast and Florida. There is another pattern connecting German speakers, Scandinavian speakers and Russian speakers which is generally in the North, especially with the first two in the Upper Midwest, while the latter two are found in some concentration in the Northeast, in Florida and on the West Coast.

The North overall has the highest diversity of non-English languages spoken at home, even though it is the Southwest with the highest numbers of non-English speakers. This shows the long lasting tradition of multiculturalism in the North, a tradition especially in the Upper Midwest of which the average American is oblivious. Multiculturalism doesn’t just happen on accident. By way of laws, communities decide to either allow or disallow diversity. The states that have no state language legislation are all in the Northeast, Upper Midwest, Northwest and Southwest. The South stands out in contrast with being a solid block of English only states.

The politics maps page further strengthens these regional distinctions, thus showing the relationship between cultural traditions and political traditions. The political regions maps shows the boundaries of the regions and identifies the main theme of each, and those boundaries follow the standard flows of migration and settlement.

Closely aligned with state language legislation, states without capital punishment are all in the North and mostly in the Upper Midwest, those easygoing kindly people of Northern European ancestry. Among states with capital punishment, those with more than 20 executions since 1973 are mostly in the Deep South with some in the Southwest.

This relates to states with strong traditions of participatory democracy and those without. The highest concentration of voting population are in Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, North Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, Missouri, Louisiana and Oregon; or to put in terms of ethnic groups: English related to the Puritans, Northern Europeans and French. To put it in the terms of standard racial groupings in America, non-Hispanic Whites fit the pattern of the general population, but even non-Hispanic Blacks and Hispanics have higher rates of voting in the North than in the South. Blacks in many Northern states, specifically those states with higher rates of Northern European ancestry, have higher voting rates than whites in many Southern states.

This interestingly aligns with something I noted in a previous post. The average IQ in the North is higher than the average IQ in the South. That just fits the typical North/South divide that can be found in all kinds of data. It’s rather predictable in that the Northern states on average have better public education systems and healthier populations, two things among many others that improve IQ. Where it gets really interesting is when broken down into race. Here is what I wrote in that above post:

black populations in some Northern states have on average higher IQs than black populations in Southern states. And, even more significantly, white populations in many Northern states have on average higher IQs than white populations in Southern states (excluding Texas). So, doing comparisons just within single races, there are IQ differences that show a North/South divide for both black and white populations. However, the difference is most clear for white populations. This can only be explained, as far as I can tell, by poverty being the central factor in IQ differences. Blacks experience higher rates than whites of poverty in all states, but whites mostly just experience high rates of poverty in the South.

This is further corroborated by the fact that rural Southern Whites have higher rates of violence than even Blacks, whether in the South or North, including inner city Blacks. I included analysis of this in my post about the North/South divide. A more detailed analysis can be found in the book Culture of Honor by Richard E. Nisbett and Dov Cohen. Just yesterday I randomly came across two interesting posts about this topic by hbd chick which consider this from an inherited genetics perspective: “culture” of honor and hatfields and mccoys. This isn’t just academic to me as I spent many years in the South. I remember, while in a South Carolina public high school, how often kids got in fights or otherwise acted aggressively confrontational. It never occurred to me at the time that such behavior wasn’t normal, since I never went to high school anywhere else and so had no comparison.

As I’ve noted many times before, the South has lower rates of health as shown by diverse indicators: obesity, diabetes, STDs, childhood hunger, etc. Along these lines, there is a socio-economics maps page. The North has the highest median family income and low percentage of adults lacking a high school diploma. The Upper Midwest has the lowest percentage of divorced adults in the country.

There is an apparent connection between a healthy democracy, a healthy society/community and a healthy population. The regions with the highest rates of Northern European ancestry show this connection most clearly. The obvious next thought is to consider the fact that Northern European countries also show this same health connection; for example, Germany and Finland.

I think I covered nearly every map in the Valparaiso University collection. I could have gone further into the religion maps, but I’ve already explored them enough elsewhere. The nice thing about maps is that it just shows you the data. Many connections can be made by the discerning observer and many possibilities can be conjectured. So, don’t just take my word for it.

Trinity In Mind: Rhetoric & Metaphor, Imaginal & Archetypal

Story. Culture. Knowledge.

Two elements: pattern and communication. What are the patterns of our communications along with the patterns of cognition and experience underlying them? How do we communicate these patterns when our very attempt is enmeshed in them?

It’s not just an issue of rhetoric and metaphor. It’s a stepping back and looking for a pathway to higher ground. A meta-language maybe is needed, but not meta in a way of making language abstract and detached. Death can’t speak for life.

I’ve never been in love with language. This could be seen as a flaw of mine as a self-identified writer. Admittedly, language is sort of important to writing. What I appreciate is communication, the essence and the impetus thereof, the desire to express, to be heard and possibly understood.

I have nothing against language. It just is what it is. My lack of love isn’t a hate; it’s a wariness. I’ve often found too superficial writers who’ve fallen in love with language. There can be a trap in linguistic narcissism. Even great writers can get caught up in their own cleverness. In these cases, it’s not always clear they’ve fallen in love with language itself or just the sound of their own voices.

Compelling language takes more than catchy phrasing and aesthetic sensibility. A writer or any other user of language has to first and foremost have something worthy of being shared and to be given voice. Language, however rarely, can touch something deeper. Then language isn’t just language.

It’s not the writer that matters, but the Other that is speaking through the writer. This deeper level is the imaginal and archetypal, the creative source.

Along with my lack of verbal romance, I have other ‘failings’ as well.

I’m prone to anti-climactic conclusions. This is because most of life feels anticlimactic to me. What can I say, I write what I know. The anti-climactic relates to another ‘failing’.

I’m also prone to a passive voice. Every writing manual I’ve read warns against this, but good advice never stopped me. It seems to me that a passive voice communicates something an active voice can’t, and that something obviously isn’t readily accepted by modern mainstream society or at least the English-speaking portions.

An active voice requires someone or something that takes action, but as I see it not all or even most of life involves action that is willed, directed or otherwise caused by actors. Still, the active voice is rooted in traditional storytelling. The question is: Are there other stories to tell and/or other ways to tell stories?

Our language determines our reality. So, what consensus reality is being reinforced by writing manuals? I’m not arguing against standard English writing. Certainly, I’m not arguing against compelling language and the active voice is more compelling; rather, I’m considering what we are being compelled by and toward.

The standard of compelling shouldn’t be its own justification. A soap opera is compelling. In fact, the average soap opera is more compelling to the average person than the greatest of art. Most people are compelled, usually mindlessly, by ideas and beliefs, metaphors and narratives that aren’t necessarily of much worthiness.

How do we judge worthiness? What is good writing versus what is great art? Does ‘good’ writing imply communication that is moral and true, whatever that might mean? What exactly is good and bad about the active versus the passive voices?

The most dangerous part about rhetoric is that we forget it’s rhetoric and mistake it for reality.

What if everything you knew was wrong?

What if everything you knew was wrong?

Posted on Sep 17th, 2008 by Marmalade : Gaia Child Marmalade
I noticed an interesting thread question in the QaR group.

What if everything you knew was wrong?

I must admit I didn’t resonate with many of the answers.  That is a very profound question, but many of the answers seemed to take it lightly.  I don’t get how people can answer with confident certainty to a question that asks about the possibility of the complete disappearance of the very foundation of all certainty in your life, in your very sense of reality.  Its quite obvious that I have a very different read on that question.

I can only guess that anyone who answers with confidence is someone who has never had the type of experience implied by the question.  I have had experiences that undermined my sense of reality and my sense of self, and my experience is that there is no answer to this question.  Any answer would be a further claim of knowledge which according to the scenario would be wrong.  My sense is that most respondants in that thread weren’t interpeting that questioning in its deepest meaning.  Some even seemed to just take it as a linguistic game rather than as a soul-wrenching inquiry.

I’m not surprised by the responses.  As this is Gaia, it was unsurprising that they largely were typical New Agey viewpoints.  This makes me think of the research on optimism.  From my understanding, an optimist (almost by definition) can’t take such a question seriously.  The question presents a non-optimistic scenario, and so the optimistic response to it is how to reinterpret the question.  The research I’ve looked at concludes that optimists tend to not accurately see reality as it is but instead as it might be.  There is a correlation between optimism and extraversion, and so an optimist generally desires to turn outward.  This question, on the other hand, offers us to turn within to the very ground (or rather groundlessness) of our being.

I’m not saying that the answers in that thread are wrong, but they are quite different than my own view.  The main point of my writing all of this is about how much our experience determines our responses.  Experience comes first and the responses we give based on that experience come after.  In that sense, our verbal explanations always carry an element of rationalization.  We feel such a strong need to explain and justify our experiences to ourselves and to others, but ultimately our experiences are non-rational.  Our experiences can’t really be explained or even communicated.  Our experiences seem to be at best their own justification, but the tricky part of the question is to consider that maybe our experiences aren’t justified.

I have felt frustrated by this recently.  The most deeply genuine experiences I’ve had in my life seem impossible to communicate.  In fact, they bewilder me to the point I hardly understand them.  As implied by the question, they undermine my very sense of being able to know anything at all.  I partly get annoyed at others’ confident certainty because I lack it.  Then again, I’m grateful for my lack of confident certainty because it allows me to more easily see multiple perspectives.

The real frustration comes because I do want to communicate.  I identify as a writer… and, yet, the most important experiences of my whole existence can’t even be touched upon by words.  So, I spend a lot of time talking around in circles never coming to any satisfactory conclusion.  The reason I write so often about ideas is that I can write about ideas.  That is relatively easy.  However, related to the question, that which exists beyond all ideas forever nags at my awareness.

I’ve been feeling a desire to instead turn to fiction.  In some ways, fiction can get at these non-rational experiences better than other modes of verbal expression.  But I don’t know if even fiction can capture or satisfactorily allude to my confused sense of reality.  The challenge as I see it isn’t how to answer the question.  What I want is to find a way to get beyond the question itself.

Access_public Access: Public 26 Comments Print Post this!views (313)  

Nicole : wakingdreamer

about 5 hours later

Nicole said

did you also read John’s answer near the end of the thread? I thought that he had really got it, as you describe – that really if everything we knew was wrong, we would literally be nowhere.

But I’m more interested in your dilemma. I agree that fiction is probably the better way for you to approach explorations of what is beyond ideas and questions. I’m wondering what some of the fictional approaches you have at the moment in mind might be.

Marmalade : Gaia Child

about 10 hours later

Marmalade said

I did like some of the answers in that thread. 

John’s answer was pointing out the philosophical difficulties of dualistic language, but all language is dualistic.  I was looking past such problems of language which are mostly surface problems.  I don’t agree with simple dualistic value judgments either. 

However, I was looking past this surface level to the deeper implications of the scenario and the experience that such a scenario would incur.  The term ‘wrong’ may not be the best term, but its adequate for conveying a certain kind of experience.  As I mentioned, I have had experiences where everything I knew felt ‘wrong’ and not in a dualistic sense but rather in an absolute sense.

I’ve been slowly reading A Scanner Darkly in bits and pieces.  I just came across a favorite section which is also conveyed well in the movie.  Its showing the degeneration of his mind really kicking in.  In a single scene, he switches between several cognitive perspectives talking about himself the whole time as if he were someone else.  PKD does it so smoothly which is extremely impressive. 

I can feel confused at times, but this goes to a whole other level.  PKD shows from the inside what it might feel like as your psyche disitegrated.  At the same time, the tone becomes evermore philosophical as the charcter not only tries to figure out what is going on but also what it means.

Subjective experience is difficult to convey in all its complexity.  Most writers stick to more normal characters because the challenge of writing well is already difficult enough.  I want to read more good examples of the type of writing that PKD does in certain of his books.  I’m thinking over the many novels and stories I’ve read over the years, but offhand its hard for me to remember which authors might’ve done this well.  I would definitely point out Kafka for he is good at deeply conveying a subjective mood.  I like Hesse’s writings, but I’m not sure that he exactly fits into what I’m thinking about here.

I’ve been very specifically thinking of fiction this past month.  I even have a story I want to write.  My motivation for the story is to convey this feeling I’ve been having lately and so the whole story hinges on how well I could convey it.  I don’t know that I could convey it, but I’m willing to try.  An aspect of the story is also about the sense of connection that one can feel with others at times and the utter disconnection at other times.  The disconnection part fits in with the difficulties of communication.

The story I’m thinking of has a different type of narrative than a typical PKD story.  I’m thinking of a very short story that happens in a single location with very little action.  The story will be as much about the past as its about the present which is another challenge.

We’ll see what I come up with.  I’ll keep you apprised.

Marmalade : Gaia Child

about 13 hours later

Marmalade said

There are 3 elements to storytelling that I’m considering:
 – Conveying multiple perspectives within a single character and smoothly transitioning between those perspectives.
 – Creating an atmosphere, a mood, a subjective sense of reality that permeates all aspects of a story.
 – Using imagery and themes that are potent and subtle, that bridge between ephemeral inner experiences and concrete outer descriptions.

Nicole : wakingdreamer

1 day later

Nicole said

you’re getting me lathered up in a fervour of anticipation! really, i can hardly wait to see what you come up with, Ben. It sounds absolutely fascinating.

1Vector3 : "Relentless Wisdom"

1 day later

1Vector3 said

Boy do I ever resonate with the experiences and challenges. Plus, as spiritual discussions try to get ever more precise about what is “experienced” even the word “experience” drops out of the running, and we are left with elusive stuff like “the suchness of Beingness” or “the ground of Beingness” or “Being.” Blech.

I was in a spiritually-oriented discussion group last night, and oddly enough was talking about one of your points: I have written and blogged about many of my inner illuminations and experiences and insights and transformations but the most profound ones – and even many of the less profound ones! – I have felt a disinclination to even TRY to write about.

So I am very frustrated, in a way, as a teacher-via-writing because the stuff I write is not the really IMPORTANT stuff, which part of me thinks I not only COULD write about but MUST be writing about, yet I cannot bring myself to do it. That’s all related to letting go of lots of my “Should’s” but it also means I end up feeling as if I am simply presenting surface stuff, misleading folks into thinking that’s all that’s going on, or the most important stuff going on. So I am breaking my identity of Rescuer, but not without the good fight, haha.

I once made a stab at trying to describe what it’s like to break through the sound barrier of “knowing” and live at the speed of “the living Truth” but it didn’t seem a particularly effective stab.

I don’t have the ability to write fiction, but I do have some poetry skills, but they don’t seem to have aligned yet with any of the kinds of purposes-of-writing we are talking about here. Perhaps they will.

In face to face life – and actually even via print and computer words – there are ways to transcend worded communication/influence. Sometimes I just give up on words, even though most of the time I live in them, as my personal arena of Divine Expression.

It was sooooooo wonderful to read your thoughts, so wonderfully expressed. Thank you for sharing, and for being in my world, kindred spirit.
Blessings, OM Bastet

Marmalade : Gaia Child

2 days later

Marmalade said

Hey OM!

Writing is difficult no doubt.  I gave up on words for a period of time some years ago.  I stopped reading and writing not for ideological reasons but because language just didn’t fit my experience at that time.  This is impressive considering how much of my life has revolved around words.  Of course, my love of (or addiction to) language won out.

I don’t see language as the enemy as some spiritual people do.  Like you, I usually see it as my personal arena of Divine Expression or something like that.  I’d like to find a different way of using language.  Fiction is what I know and so I plan on focusing on that, but poetry definitely works for many people.

I’ve decided to focus more on my own writing and less time on pods.  I think I’ll only keep the God Pod and Community Film Picks on notification.  I did finish a very rough draft of the story I’ve been thinking of, but it will probably be a while before I’m satisfied enough with it to share it.  I plan on trying multiple different ways of telling the story before even getting much into the editing process.

Nicole : wakingdreamer

3 days later

Nicole said

that sounds like an excellent plan. The more I try to keep pods under control the more they proliferate – I’m back up to 31 Lol fortunately not all of them active. Time to trim some of the inactive ones again!

starlight : StarLight Dancing

13 days later

starlight said

Ben, have you just tried to do some honest journaling…not really anything specific to begin with…just honest feelings about experiencing?  this helps, and it also helps to always write what you know…so, if you ‘don’t know’, write about the ways you know you don’t know…this will open up areas that are blocked in your psyche…also, you mentioned feeling connected…then feeling disconnected…write about these experiences honestly…putting these honest feelings down on paper, then looking at them, opens up other areas of awareness…

will look forward to reading you…when we can honestly speak from our hearts…the experience resonates…and touches all that are listening with their heart…

much love and joy…star…

Marmalade : Gaia Child

13 days later

Marmalade said

Yeah, for years I used to do lots of that kind of honest journalling.  I still do it some, but not as much as I used to because it ultimately felt unsatisfying.  It was useful for a period of my life.

Part of my frustration lately is not just that I ‘don’t know’, but also that I ‘don’t know’ what to do with what I ‘do know’.  Specifically, my present frustration relates to being on Gaia because my frustrations are amplified.  There are three overlapping types on Gaia.  There are the rationalists which are mostly represented by the integralists here.  There are the spiritual believers who are heavily weighted towards the new age.  And there are the activists who are extremely politically-oriented specifically liberal and progressive.  I find these three types interesting, but I don’t really fit into any of them. 

All three of these types (and this entire community) is dominated by optimists.  I’m not an optimist… far from it.  I have certain ideals that occasionally inspire me, but I’m not that idealistic.  If anything, my view of life is tragic.

So, in many ways I ‘don’t know’ about my own experience.  More importantly, I feel most people ‘don’t know’ my experience.  I realize this is a common experience of feeling not understood, but I think this feeling is more accurate for some people than for others.  In our society, statistics show that pessimists are an extreme minority.  This probably has always been true because optimism has more of an evolutionary advantage.  My pessimism is out of sync with society (especially in the US) and maybe with the human race in general.  Furthermore, Gaia has an even higher concentration of optimists than probably anywhere else on the web.

The obvious question… so why am I here?  I don’t know. I was raised with the New Age and I’m apparently drawn to it like a moth to a flame.  How tragic.  🙂

When you read my writing on gaia, you are reading a highly censored version of me.  I partly don’t speak about certain experiences because I don’t fully understand them, but I also don’t speak about certain experiences because I doubt most others here would fully understand them.  So, what is the point?!  No one on Gaia has ever seen my darker side and probably no one here cares to see it.  And I don’t care to hear all the optimism I’d get in response to it.

The reason I’m here is similar to an explanation of the universe that I find humorous.  Some people claim that this universe is the best of all possible worlds.  Now that is a depressing thought.  This is the best God could do?  Anyways, it seems ironically funny to me because its usually stated as a way of countering pessimism.  My point being is I’m on Gaia because its the best of all possible blogging communities which can simultaneously be seen as praise for Gaia and criticism of blogging communities in general. 

I’m a dissatisfied person and that is the way it is.  The problem isn’t anything in particular.  The problem is everything.  Our inability to understand and to communicate.  Our inability to do anything actually significant about all of the suffering in the world.  Our inability to see outside of our limited perspectives.  I don’t think we can honestly speak from our hearts or at least I have yet to either personally experience it or observe it in others.  The only ‘honest’ experiences of the heart I’ve had brought on silence and a sense of existential ignorance… which isn’t a bad thing… in fact, I suspect the world might be a better (or more intereting) place if more people had such humbling experiences.

The difficulty I have with a place like Gaia is that too many people here have agendas and are too certain about their agendas.  This isn’t a bad thing per se.  The purpose of Zaadz was to be a place for people who want to change the world.  But I don’t want to change the world and I don’t resonate with people who do.  Its not a judgment of them.  I’m glad some people feel compelled towards change… whatever inspires you or whatever is your nature.  My attitude is just different because my experience is different.  My attitude is how to let the world deeply and profoundly change me.  One of my highest ideals is to let go of all ideals, but that is of course an impossible ideal.  lol

starlight : StarLight Dancing

13 days later

starlight said

Ben…again, i encourage you in honesty…how do you know that other’s will not resonate with your experiences of the darker side until you put it out there?  and, relatively speaking…is that not in and of itself your purpose for being here?  i write about horrible experiences that i have had in reality…smoking crack…prostitution…sexual abuse…and yet, i also write about the real inner peace and joy that i experience…

imho, and b/c of my real life experiencing of my own dark nights of my soul…i was not able to get past them until i saw them for what they were…and got honest with me about it…seems like, you are doing that, but your frustration just might be, your lack of expression…iow, your creative ability to express in words what you have experienced or are experiencing now…and the way to solve that is just to do it…write what you feel…be honest…to hell with the optimist…fuck em…lol…like Adam said…


how do you know that other’s don’t ‘feel’ the same ways?  by speaking your truths no matter how dark they may be, you release that frustration, and you give other’s the right to be who and what they are…and feel what they feel…

these are just suggestions, but b/c i deal with the ‘dark side’ of life every day…i no longer deny this in myself, in other’s, or in the world at large…

much love and joy…and if you don’t want me to say that…tell me to ‘fuck off!’  LOL…

Marmalade : Gaia Explorer

13 days later

Marmalade said

I hear ya.  I’m sure some would resonate with experiences I could communicate.  I’m not saying I won’t try to write about these more difficult issues.  I’m not sure what my purpose is for being here other than writing.  I do want to try to express something of my viewpoint as far as I feel capable.

My frustrations go beyond difficulties of communication.  I’m just frustrated, but I don’t see my frustration as something to be solved.  I feel the world is inherently dissatisfying.  For me, frustration is the seed of my spiritual experiences.  Suffering and longing go hand in hand.  I can put this into personal terms, but I don’t have the time at the moment.  I’ve spoken about my depression in various places on Gaia.  This might sound strange to some people but part of me doesn’t want my depression to go away.  I don’t want to forget the world’s suffering.  I don’t want to distract myself not even by ideals of love and compassion.  I don’t know what this means, but I do know that suffering is the most real experience I know of.

All of this means little.  Either you’ve had experiences similar to mine and agree with my perspective, or you’ve had different experiences and thus have different perspectives.  Another thing is that I don’t have the belief that you seem to have that expressing something will change it.  I have no expectations that my frustration will ever be released or rather not until I’m released from this mortal coil.

I don’t know what the point of any of it is.  I’m just a writer.  Its what I do and so here I am.

One last thing about this frustration is that I feel immense shame.  I’m far from being successful by most standards of society.  My only level of success is that I hold down a job, pay the bills, and haven’t killed myself.  I pretty much live my life day by day.  I have no excuses for myself or my life.  I’ve had more opportunities than most people ever have.  Most people would see my failure as being completely personal.  My parents worked themselves through college and into professional careers.  Both of them started off fairly poor and are now upper middleclass.  I, on the other hand, have slowly worked myself back down to working class.  My parents are accomplished and have intense work ethics.  I can’t even get the motivation to do the dishes. 

I live my life in fear.  I’m afraid of everything.  Life will only get worse.  My depression will only increase with age.  Pain and suffering will only increase with age.  Loneliness will only become more intense as people I know and love die over the years.  To be completely honest,  I’ll be ‘lucky’ if I don’t either end up killing myself, becoming institutionalized or else homeless.  That is my darker side.

I’m not seeking pity.  And I’m definitely not looking for good advice or optimistic outlooks.  I very well may say ‘fuck off!’ to anyone who does offer any of this.

starlight : StarLight Dancing

13 days later

starlight said

LOL…there ya go!  rotf…least you made me laugh…which is something i love to do…

i spent my life trying to kill myself with drugs and alcohol….today i am thankful for another way to live and enjoy  my life…i am really a very simple person…and i don’t have a belief system anymore, cause i had an experience where all my conceptual beliefs, including the religious ones crumbled…i cannot think conceptually now…i don’t know why i am here…fuck it…don’t care…just going to try and enjoy my life as much as possible…cause that is what i want to do…lol…if you like your depression…happy depressing…lol…i don’t see much point to all the suffering…but i, like you, am not willing to look the other way concerning it,  or pretend that it does not really exist…even if it is just temporary…but, unlike you…i fucking love my life now…i love nature…i love to write…i love to feel joy…i love to cry…i love music…i love to sing…my songs…i love to play guitar…my keyboard…congas…i love to dance…in the rain…play with kids…i love…rainbows…sunsets…stars…i love to fuck…and i love to say the word fuck…i love food…i love the internet…i love movies…books…i love to learn…and sometimes i love just being lazy…well, i love that a lot…mostly…i just stay honest and real with me…cause that makes me happy…

anyways…this has been a very enlightening discussion…for me anyways…always, *

Marmalade : Gaia Child

13 days later

Marmalade said

Your attitude is fine by me. 

My theory is that I am what I am and I experience what I experience… and as far as I can tell this theory applies to everyone.  I’m happy when I’m happy and I enjoy life when I enjoy it.  Conversely, I’m depressed when I’m depressed and I gladly curse God almighty when I’m in a bad mood.

For happy people, I say more power to them.  Overall, I’m not a happy person myself.  But who wouldn’t choose to be a happy person if such things were actually choices.  I’ve tried to be one of those happy people.  It just didn’t work out.  We all have our fates.  Some people just have easier fates than others.  I can hear people responding with the opinion that nothing is fated, and all I can say is that such a person believes this way because
their nature and life experience has led them to do so.

Freewill is a sacred cow for optimists, but it doesn’t mean much to me.  I’ve spent much of my life trying to choose something other than this life I have.  Nevertheless, here I am as I am.  I’ve tried to just love life and enjoy the simple things.  I have found some basic sense of contentment, but depression always returns and my periods of depression last way longer than my brief moments of carefree happiness.

I suspect that everyone tries and enjoy their lives as much as possible, but what is possible is not the same for everyone.  That reminds me of what my Grandmother used to say: “Everyone is doing the best for where they’re at.”  Not much more can be said than that.

1Vector3 : "Relentless Wisdom"

13 days later

1Vector3 said

Your position is coming through loud and clear, Ben, and I believe I’m hearing it. As someone who values you, I had to at first be sure that, re your depression, you had covered all the possible avenues of change that I am aware of, and since you seem to have done that, it does appear that “not much more can be said.” Until and unless something changes……

I don’t identify with any of the three groups here you mentioned. Do you consider me a New Ager and optimist? Both labels would be just about the opposite of the truth of me !!!! I am a heretic on at least 40 points wrt New Age, and as a perfectionist down to my cells and in every second of my consciousness, I am a card-carrying pessimist, always focusing first and foremost and at length on what is wrong and what could go wrong. For example I have had a long hard struggle for decades to even begin to entertain the notion that “Things could turn out the best way I could imagine, not the worst way.”  Give me anything and I will tell you all the downsides of it, past, present, and future. But I also see ways it could be improved, and ways the improvements could be accomplished. That is part of the gifts in the garbage, as one of my friends calls it.

So I am an optimist in believing everything CAN be improved, it’s just a matter of willingness and resources. And I am an optimist in believing that there ARE gifts in every garbage. In fact, that’s why the garbage exists, to call attention to the gifts.

Then again, I am usually hopeless about things actually improving……

Free will ain’t a sacred cow for me. I have a heretical view of that notion, which most people would (sloppily and inaccurately) interpret as no free will. One of my New Age heresies, a very severe one. Very severe, as it impacts how we approach changing the world.
I don’t feel like a happy person, overall either. Too much guilt, too much hopelessness, too much anger at God and blaming of God. But I have my moments not of optimism but of “knowing” [not accurate word]  the Bigger Picture, in which all that fades to less than nothing. Less. Like it never existed.

That somehow feels like a deeper and more authentic Me than the rest. And, fortunately, those moments are expanding in number and length, which I desire, but which I am only cooperating with; it’s a happening, not a doing….

Anyway, what I value most is honesty/authenticity, which is a version of Truth I treasure in self and others, and you reek of that !!!!!

Namaste, OM

Marmalade : Gaia Child

14 days later

Marmalade said

re my depression, maybe it’ll change but I’d be surprised if it did.  I tried to change it… and, since that didn’t work, I tried the opposite tactic.  That is my version of being practical.

I didn’t have you in mind when I was thinking of those three groups.  I was mostly thinking about broad categories.  I’ve heard your views on the New Age and so I know you don’t self-identify as a New Ager.  I don’t know you well enough to say what I think you are to tell you the truth, but for some reason to me you’ve come across as an optimist.  Of course, labels are relative in how we personally interpret them.  You seem more optimistic than myself anyways.  I do sometimes see the gifts in the garbage, but first and foremost I see the garbage.  Actually, I usually don’t see a clear difference between the supposed garbage and the supposed gifts.

I like the distinction you made between CAN be improved vs actually improving.  Sounds like the type of think I’d say.

Freewill… that is a heck of an issue.  I’ve thought about blogging about it.  Maybe I will.  I could write a very long and detailed blog or even series of blogs about that subject.  I’ve been thinking a fair bit about it.  I was reading about freewill online and came across compatibalism which states that freewill and determinism are not in contradiction.  The freewill/determinism debate is like the theism/atheism debate.  According to compatibalism, freewill is relative.  Freewill is meaningless as an abstraction, but in practical terms we must define the specific context.  What specifically do we believe we are free from?  Or what do we want to be free from?

I dig what you say about your “deeper and more authentic Me”.  Good luck on expanding those moments in number and length.  A happening, not a doing… yes, indeedy!

I reek?  ummm… thanks.  🙂

Nicole : wakingdreamer

14 days later

Nicole said

Ben, I am really moved by what you are saying. Thank you for showing up as yourself to this extent though you are clearly very doubtful of getting what you need.

I have seen over and over here people expressing deep negativity, pain, suffering, heart cries – and finding others who resonate – yes! someone else who understands how deeply messed up the world is, thank you! So I believe the same will be of you, if you choose to show the “darker side” of Ben.

One of my closest friends here on the site loves really dark, angry music, has lived a very very difficult past (and blogs often about it) and sometimes shows up with very violent or heavy energy. He teaches me a lot , as you have done and are doing now much more, about how really unhelpful or inappropriate it can be to try to cheer people up or be optimistic at times. Now, when he gets in those kinds of places, I just walk over to him mentally and verbally and sit next to him, and we talk about it, and when he is ready to be alone again he lets me know and I quietly go.

I have no illusions about being able to understand what you live. I hear what you are saying about depression and it brings light for me, reminding me somewhat of times I have been depressed and had something I needed to work through about that, and just quietly turning away from all my friends who were telling me I had to “fix” the depression because they were uncomfortable with me being depressed. It wasn’t about them and I knew they couldn’t understand that.

I am greedy, Ben. I will admit it. I want to know about all of you, not just the parts of you that you think that I can relate to. In return, I promise to do my best to honour you and not impose my thoughts, feelings and beliefs all over that honesty.

14 days later

Centria said

Ben, thank you for writing this and sharing more of who you are and feel and think.  As someone who definitely leans towards optimism, I suddenly felt a rush of shame and guilt…..that so much obvious optimism might somehow not be honoring or respecting or allowing the more pessimistic sides to have their say, as well.  Just reading your words and story helps balance something.  Well, hopefully, anyway.

Last fall and winter I sat with a good friend who was very depressed.  She was thinking of killing herself.  It was tough to witness, tough to stay there with her, tough to honor exactly where she was in her life.  Like you, part of her did not want to be optimistic.  Part of her, as she expressed it, wanted to deeply feel the suffering of all beings.  She didn’t want to hear any change-your-thinking-and-change-your-life mentality.  So I listened.  And she spoke sometimes, and didn’t speak for long months.  And I did eventually recommend that she consider medication, and she eventually decided to seek help for her depression, and now she’s doing pretty well in her life.  But it did seem very important not to “fix” the depression, not to turn immediately towards the light and cheery and bubbly and optimistic. 
The words to express things are SO hard.  Because we don’t know.  But we use words and stories to attempt to explain….something…..but it’s never true and never accurate and is very often frustrating.  I feel frustrated just trying to find any words to comment here.  What could I possibly know of your life?  Nothing, only the glimmering edges.  And maybe not even those.
Yet I am always amazed when words come out of me pretending like they know or mean something.  Because when I look closely at what’s inside there doesn’t seem to be much there.  Emptiness.  Yes, a structure exists, in which one can claim optimism or pessimism.  But other than that….well, I feel there’s not much I can say that can express anything valuable here.  Except I value your presence here on Gaia so much, your honesty, your thoughtfulness, the way you can’t be pinned down into any definitive category.  Thank you Ben for continuing to share your truth…..and hopefully that fiction, as well.

1Vector3 : "Relentless Wisdom"

14 days later

1Vector3 said

Yeah, that was a tongue in cheek compliment, just for the fun of the language play. Glad you got it !!

Well if you do write about free will, Ben, I have a lot of comments ready !! Like determinism is definitely not the only alternative to the common notion of “free will,” not by a long shot. And that free will as commonly defined is not a necessary precondition of personal responsibility or morality.

Something Nicole said has indirectly triggered this thought which I am not sure I have expressed here before: “Depression” is to me a pretty meaningless catchall medical term. I often encounter people who consider themselves depressed, are labelled depressed, are treated as depressed, and to me they are just profoundly SAD, or feeling hopeless. To me, there is biochemically-induced depression, which is real and common, and a painkiller did that to me once, but on the very rare occasions when I have(fortunately for very brief periods)  felt slow, heavy, apathetic, tight, weepy, paralyzed, untalkative, withdrawn / dissociated, it’s because I am sad or hopeless ABOUT SOMETHING. True depression is kinda about everything and nothing in particular, as I understand it.

I feel more optimistic haha about people being able to pull out of sadness or hopelessness (or any of the other particulars mentioned below) than I do biochemical depression, or true depression if that exists. But I don’t feel hopeless about any of it. Anything can change. Miracles do happen.

Oh, and lots and lots of people labelled depressed are of course suffering from anger turned toward self, or guilt or self-blame, that’s the classic psychological mechanism, but most of the ones I encounter are actually in deep grief or mourning, often about the state or condition of the world !!!! They are sensitive souls, and bear the grief and suffering of all, as personal. To label this as a psychological or psychiatric illness or disorder is to kinda miss the point; it’s a soul-level response to an observed situation. It is optional, but only if one realizes exactly what is going on.

So “depression” to me is vague and meaningless, unless further specified. Not that I am saying you need to, just sharing my view on a subject that’s commonly discussed these days.

So the checklist would be:
biochemical source?
anger at self, self-blame, guilt?
grief, mourning? personal or world?
None of the above?

Blessings, OM Bastet

1Vector3 : "Relentless Wisdom"

14 days later

1Vector3 said

Centria posted while I was composing. Point made: I do not consider her friend “clinically depressed” or mentally ill in any way shape or form. She is one of those I precisely mentioned; The souls who feel the suffering of everyone, as their own. I hate it when those people are put on medication – except for my OTOH below. I believe there are spiritually-based perspectives that could alleviate the perspective which is causing their “depression.” That “depression” or in truth empathetic sadness  is based on an OPTIONAL way of looking at the world, at people, at suffering.

OTOH I believe that a prolonged time spent in any of the other “causes” I outlined above, ends up causing biochemical depression, in addition to any other cause, as the body adapts, and some holistic approach including body mind and spirit would be needed to really make a difference. At that point, anti-depressants might make the person more functional, but they are walking wounded, and the causative perspective still operates.
All this sounds like theory but I hope the passionate desire to alleviate needless suffering which is the engine of my life, comes through in somehow. I do it my way, not always very personal or cuddly, those ways too are marvelous. I resonate with and respect and in fact sometimes do, in personal life, the kinds of “being with” and “grokking” that Nicole and Centria have described.

Hey, Ben, this is becoming Collective Wisdom on a very very common issue. Would you be willing????? Any others object???  Perhaps not really soon, but sometime after the energy has moved on from here??

Blessings, OM 

starlight : StarLight Dancing

14 days later

starlight said

My theory is that I am what I am and I experience what I experience… and as far as I can
tell this theory applies to everyone.  I’m happy when I’m happy and I enjoy life when I
enjoy it.  Conversely, I’m depressed when I’m depressed and I gladly curse God almighty
when I’m in a bad mood.

see, i think this is way cool…that you know and accept where you are…and that you are
not running around trying to pretend otherwise…which is what i did for years…never
facing myself…running from drugs and alcohol back to religion always escaping from the
now i was in…shew…today, b/c of my recovery program, i do not have to live that way…
i could never just be honest with me…until…i was able to be…of course, once i was
finally able to get honest…that enabled me to really use the 12 steps and to open up
that awareness…now, i deal with life on life’s terms…it has been a lot of work…and
much of it has been very painful…but i would not trade my life now for anything…
For happy people, I say more power to them.  Overall, I’m not a happy person myself. 
But who wouldn’t choose to be a happy person if such things were actually choices. 
I’ve tried to be one of those happy people.  It just didn’t work out.  We all have our
fates.  Some people just have easier fates than others.  I can hear people responding
with the opinion that nothing is fated, and all I can say is that such a person believes
this way because their nature and life experience has led them to do so.

i would say, from my experience, that happiness and depression both, are way’s of
experiencing this reality…and i tend to agree that there is no choice…on another forum
many of us went round and round on this…here is my story as it relates to choices…

when situations unfolded several years ago, that have led me along this journey that i
got sober on, i would say that i had no control over them, nor did i have a choice at
that very moment when the officer put handcuffs on me and dragged me off to face my own consequences of my behavior…however; everything i had done up to that point…had led me to that point…and looking back, no one put a gun to my head and made me behave in the ways that i had…so, i had to take responsibility for my actions…

i soon ran out of people, places, and things to blame for my behavior, b/c i had started
looking honestly at me…i am grateful that i had the awareness to do this, for i am
reminded that many near and dear to me, do not…i eventually even ran out of the idea
of a god to blame anything on, or to depend on persay, or to praise and thank for even
the grace of awareness…it just is…and i have accepted that today…and for those that
it is not…well, that just is too…

my own experience however, of taking these steps, which are just a journey within, taught
me that though i did not have a choice once i picked up that first drug or drink, or even a choice as to whether or not i used then…that b/c of the clarity of awareness i have today, i do have a choice whether or not to go down that road of insanity again…tomorrow,
i don’t know about…but today i am aware, and i am emotionally sober, as well as clean from chemical substances…i also learned that using was not my problem…it was my solution…my problem was a lack of power to live life on life’s terms…i have sense found that power within my own awareness…and it is way cool…lol

i learned through this program how to live life on it’s own terms…to stay awake to the
moment of now, and stay out of yesterday…out of tomorrow…and out of my head…i found
too, that every negative or positive feeling was due to conditioned awareness…and the
reason that i believe anything…is also due to that conditioning…so i really resonate
with that last sentence of yours in the paragraph above…

this way of thinking gave me an opening though…if i am responsible for how i feel…
what i think…what i believe…and my behavior…then that meant that i could change it…
first by recognizing it…accepting it…then remaining open to the now of awareness of the
moment…and it’s potential for change…THIS WAS VERY POWERFUL FOR ME…AND IS STILL…
when i am able to remain aware, i tap into that inner power, that inner strength, that we all have within our own awareness…
i might not be able to change or control the fact that a tornado destroys my house and all
my material possessions, but i do have the ability…today…to choose what i think about
that…and by changing my thoughts…i change my feelings…on a very simple level…
instead of reacting by conditioned beliefs and habitual emotions…i am free, in this
moment, to look at it another way…

there is a saying in recovery…

we cannot hear until we hear…we cannot see until we see…


Freewill is a sacred cow for optimists, but it doesn’t mean much to me.  I’ve spent much
of my life trying to choose something other than this life I have.  Nevertheless, here I
am as I am.  I’ve tried to just love life and enjoy the simple things.  I have found some
basic sense of contentment, but depression always returns and my periods of depression last way longer than my brief moments of carefree happiness.

concerning freewill…i tend to think that we are puppets of awareness for the most part…
and yet, as i mentioned, in each moment of pristine awareness, there is the potential for
change…but even that change is not concrete…it just is…and i have learned to
experience my life in that ever-free moment of now…awake…present…even to the feelings
that i may not enjoy…like last night…i had gas…damn…it hurt…LOL

what i have experienced too…is that this very journey of life…is an awakening…if i
but pay attention…and remain present in the moment…

i have come to know depression and happiness as the protective layers of our conditioned awareness…we protect ourselves with both of them…and in my experience…they both have been necessary…to get me to right here right now…underneath all those layers of conditioning…i found my own true nature…and when i can remain there, which i can now most of the time…it is beyond awesome…beyond happy…beyond peace…beyond depression beyond suffering…beyond physical pain…beyond now…like Buddha said…it is bliss…nonconceptual…and free…(i am not a buddhist however)…i have even gone beyond being labeled as anything…(religiously speaking…lol)

i am a human being…and i still own my suffering and pain…my joy and sorrow…in the moment when i experience it…but it does not control my life, the way i think, believe, feel or act today…and i still have conditioning i am working through…mostly opening up further and integrating awareness with life experiencing…which you dear Ben, sharing yourself so honestly, have helped me with…

my sister is very sick with depression…my mother is very mentally ill…and we both were raised with this; it affected us differently, but needless to say we both were very much affected…and it has been so difficult for me (accepting her depression), b/c i have been on the other end of it…but i watched my sister start opening up…she was going to meetings with me, and she was blossoming…but she began shutting down again when she had to get honest…her critical thinking muscles are lazy…she holds on to her beliefs of religion like a little child not letting go of her blankie…and she is addicted to the idea of depression….and i stopped trying to push her here after her last two threats to kill herself…but i do not feed into her depression either…i allow her to be just what she is…and she is a beautiful being…very funny and intelligent…she just really is not aware of that…her mind is so tangled with guilt and shoulda, woulda, coulda’s…and a lot of childhood trauma…she is not at this time capable of facing herself…and with the medicines she is having to take, i don’t expect this to change…but, i do not believe that it cannot change…just like…i may wake up tomorrow
with the beginning of Alzheimers…some things again…we have no control over…but i am
awake and aware at this very moment…and it is within my control at this moment…to allow
my own true nature to just be…our conversations here, will no doubt enable me to be of more service to her…if nothing more than on the level of understanding…i thank you for that…

I suspect that everyone tries and enjoy their lives as much as possible, but what is
possible is not the same for everyone.  That reminds me of what my Grandmother used
to say: “Everyone is doing the best for where they’re at.”  Not much more can be said
than that.

there is another saying similar to that that i love…

“When we know better…we can do better.”

today…i take responsibility for my knowing…and my doing…but i realize today too…that this is a gift of the grace of awareness…

much love Ben…always, star…

Marmalade : Gaia Child

14 days later

Marmalade said

The thing is that I fully realize that when speaking about depression online like this only invites people offering advice and whatever.  Its to be expected even if its not what I want.  I’ve a number of times responded to someone’s sharing of hardships only to discover they didn’t even want any response at all.  I’m not like that because I always appreciate responses, but years of hearing advice has soured me on those kind of responses.  How I see advice is that if something works for you, then that is good… but it may not be useful to anyone else.

To some extent I understand other viewpoints, but I don’t know how to bridge the distance between my viewpoint and those of others.  My personal understanding is complex and contradictory.  Sometimes, I sense a genuine goodness and at othe times I would declare without a doubt that this world is a living hell.  At other times, I feel they may both be simultaneously true.

Hey OM, feel free to start a thread in the Collective Wisdom pod.

starlight : StarLight Dancing

14 days later

starlight said

well, i  cannot speak for anyone else, but i really was trying to just share my experience, strength, and hope…and specifically that…i understand that it might seem that i was trying to give advice…however; i assure you that i am aware that my path is not yours and vice a versa…but i cannot deny, that i would think it way cool, if you got something from it you could use…i would hope that you would be open to that…

the only way to bridge the difference between viewpoints, is to remain open as far as i can see…iow, allow yourself the willingness to see things differently…but again, that is a tool i use…that has worked for me…

always, star…

Marmalade : Gaia Explorer

14 days later

Marmalade said

I’m just not in the mood for positive intentions, be it advice or not.  I’m open to what you’ve said, but at this point in my life I feel like I’ve heard it all.

I was raised in New Thought Christianity.  I spent years reading about and practicing positive thinking.  I’ve been to a Landmark Forum which teaches how to take control of your life.  I used to have a regular yoga and meditation practice for years.  I’ve been to many psychotherapists, psychiatrists, and even a shamanic healer.  And I went to a Shiatsu massage school where I learned alternative healing including energy work.  Sounds like a resume.  lol

I understand not wanting to blame God or other external forces, but I neither want to blame myself.  If doing all that I’ve tried isn’t good enough, then just hell with it all.  Its not your fault that I’m feeling irritable, and I’m not saying that I don’t want to hear other people’s perspectives.  I’m almost always willing to see things differently.  I’ve dedicated most of my life trying to see things differently.  But maybe at the moment I’m not in the best of moods for feeling open towards certain perspectives.

I’m sorry if I sounded critical, but afterall I am feeling quite critical.  Please understand that it isn’t you personally or anything specific.  Its just how I feel, but I don’t expect anyone else would want to listen to my griping.  I’m just expressing my criticalness because its worse if I don’t. 

15 days later

Centria said

There’s no other option, Mr. Cat, then to take you exactly as you are in this very moment.  That’s good enough for me.  🙂

Nicole : wakingdreamer

15 days later

Nicole said

You’ve explored so many avenues… I fall silent next to you and simply offer U2 – I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For

If you do want feedback or if there is anything else I can do, I’m here, Ben. Love you.

starlight : StarLight Dancing

15 days later

starlight said

well, take your irritable ass to a 12 step meeting!  LOL…i don’t see that on your list…and it really sounds like you need one…LMAO…(just a suggestion…lol)