Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Stockholm Syndromes R Us

Stockholm Syndrome describes a state of positive psychological attachment to a dangerous authority figure who has life-and-death power over the person(s) in question during a period of captivity. The defining quality of this attachment is survival via love, appeasement, and support of the captor(s) and their aims. This fear-based ‘love’ emerges in the captive person to mask their terrifying vulnerability by improving their chance and quality of survival at the feeling level. In this post, I argue that growing up, as defined previously, requires of us all that we first identify and grow beyond our own generalised Stockholm Syndrome.

Of course I am taking a few liberties to lend this metaphor poetic validity. For example, less than one in ten people in hostage/kidnap situations are said to develop the syndrome. In this piece, I am suggesting that a far larger percentage of non-elites are subject to this state of being, though to varying degrees. Rough caricatures might be the obsequious and/or vociferous supporters of the status quo; more timid types afraid to ask probing questions and thus positively supportive of the Powers That Be; or apparently rational people who have logically deduced that eggs must be broken to make omelettes and are thus supportive of Tough Love, Hair Shirts and Tightened Belts in the interests of law and order. I am also suggesting that a captor, or group of captors, need not be physically present or even explicit in their endeavours, they need merely be generalised as an atmospheric and internalised threat. In other words, I am here casting the state as a monopoly of force in the role captor, with all us citizens as its captives.

The threat represented by the state is an omnipresent network of nodes: all mass-media outlets; on the streets as the police; on billboards and road signs; in schools, colleges and universities; and in the mere existence of money as a requirement for survival, whose concealed workings hardly anyone understands. At home, we are raised from birth by caregivers whose own upbringings were steeped in this generalised threat of force, who internalised it, and who then dutifully prepare their progeny to adapt to its Hobbesian reality in an unending, ‘it’s always been this way’ Groundhog Day. It’s the air we breath and water we drink, mostly without noticing. 

Some are angry at The System, some not. Either way, the vast majority of us obey so deeply that our obedience is unfelt.

We are all living complexes of beliefs about How Life Is, imbibed unconsciously during our childhoods. Bringing the details and origins of our belief complexes into focus is very difficult. Insecurities, phobias, biases, reflexes, predispositions, preferences and received wisdoms are the unexamined ground we walk, the concealed trellis that structures, or delimits, our ‘maturation’. What is barbaric and what civilised? What is humane, what cruel? What is tame, what wild? What is national pride? What is matter and what is consciousness? What is love? And who has the time to properly delve, in a spirit of open-minded scepticism, into these deeper areas of what we each severally believe?

To take on that task means to dare to be different, to be weird. The Great They are watching. The threat of force is an internalised spy network monitoring our every thought. We are social animals. Expulsion from the group is terrifying, an existential danger. The group has life-and-death power over us. 

This combination of very human elements means that we hold our familiar group and its beliefs so dear and at such depth we can barely tell this is so. Wiser to love the devil we know than to fight and drown in an endless struggle against the river’s vast reality. Going against the group’s flow takes great and seemingly unending effort, and is also the source of real existential risks.

Is this not the essence of Stockholm Syndrome? Isn’t developing the syndrome the price we pay to remain safely ensconced in the system we know best? My view is that history plainly tells us this is so.

Unavoidably, when a belief complex meets the end of its utility, change is required. When that complex and its many siblings together structure a loosely affiliated ‘society’ of peoples that spans the globe – materialism, capitalism, statism, paternalism, etc. –, effecting the required change appears impossible. It isn’t.

I suggest that the vast majority of us want a healthier system. We hunger for justice, authenticity, honesty, transparency, dignity and respect because these things resonate in us as good, as that which is best about being human. And yet we are never going to birth a system that honours them all – by design – while we remain afraid, rendered inactive and compliant by our unexamined Stockholm Syndromes. 

Courage is the antidote. Courage flows from a love-based approach to our existence, one oriented around a heart-felt desire to do what’s best for the other guy, for all the other guys. Both love and courage are sustained by knowing, profoundly, this truth: “As we do unto Other, so we do unto Self.” I have found starting with an honest acceptance and examination of my own Stockholm Syndrome to be very helpful in staying true to this challenging path towards health and love.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Life Has No Meaning. Choose a Good One.

Reality itself can have no purpose. For a thing to have a purpose, it has to be made with one in mind, like a car or a gun. To avoid an infinite regress wherein a creator creates reality with a purpose in mind, but we then have to ask, “What created the creator?”, and then, “What created the creator’s creator?” ad infinitum, the ‘original’ reality itself must simply be uncaused. By definition, an uncreated, or uncaused, thing cannot have a purpose. Ergo, reality can have no inherent purpose as it is necessarily uncreated, uncaused.

In common parlance, the phrase “the meaning of life” is synonymous with “the meaning of reality” and by extension “reality’s purpose”. As we have established, there can be none. Not happiness, not wealth, not wanton destruction, not Evil or Good or anything else. The reality is that reality has no absolute meaning, whether or not we are materialists. 

In my view, consciousness chooses/creates meanings. It is a meaning creator. The meaning(s) it creates is/are arbitrary in the sense that a priori meaning is not part of the fundamental constitution of consciousness, while data and change are. One illustration of this is the indelible nature of subjectivity. For example, a piece of information (pattern of data) such as 010101010101 can have no correct, objective meaning. Instead and in various ways, consciousness perceives the experience of meaning into it. Maybe one moment a pattern is perceived as pleasing, the next irritating. In more familiar terms, sunshine on your face is a streaming pattern of data that can be nice one moment and annoying the next. This subjectivity scales all the way up to love, for me the most mysteriously, paradoxically complex and simple pattern there is (or patterning: everything changes, as reality/consciousness is always changing). As conscious beings, we therefore choose love as the vector of becoming with our own free will, not because God/Daddy/Mummy/Whatever tells us it is the meaning of life, or because it just somehow is, always will be and always has been The Right Thing To Do. In other words, it’s not a correct choice, it’s just a choice. We choose it understanding, deeply, why we do so. Choice cannot be forced upon us, by definition.

If we have in our philosophy – as I do – creative consciousness as a fundamental requirement for there to be something rather than nothing at all, that creative consciousness may assign itself, for whatever reason, some preference or set of preferences that we might call a self-selected purpose or Way, i.e., love. But this is not the same as with a designed object like a car or a gun: such objects cannot make choices or experience preferences in the same way that patterns of data have no inherent meaning.

In the more familiar human domain, some cultural set of preferences – e.g., Capitalism – can become sacrosanct when sufficiently successful over time. It is perpetuated and propagated via various propaganda techniques to society as a raison d’être, but is in fact arbitrary rather than Natural Law / ‘God Given’. It is sold as Natural Law, because when society is composed of a large number of people, its cohesion over time requires very complex systems of self-governance and/or imposed governance that take a long time and huge investment in blood and tears to develop. For ‘reasons of national security’, these defining, core systems must therefore be beyond question. A successful set of preferences (a.k.a The System) is thus the core generator of a society’s wealth because it is the very way its people are able to agree on what wealth is in the first place. To change it in its fundament – to bring about radical change – is to risk (apparent) destruction of that wealth, and certainly a period of profound disorientation and suffering. This logic must surely also apply to consciousness itself, and indeed to all systems. Why change a winning game? Never touch a running system! 

This is, of course, the logic of conservatism, the sensible urge to protect and nurture accumulated wealth. It doesn’t matter that what is protected is arbitrary/confected in some important way, the conservative impulse is generally sensible. 

However, nothing is perfect. Any set of preferences likely includes one or more flawed notions such as perpetual economic growth, or human dominion over nature, or racial purity. If it does, it will eventually have to adapt those flaws or perish. This is neutral evolution as it abuts Natural Law, not some a priori, immutable meaning revealing itself as an absolute good.

Following this logic, we can deduce that free will is a necessary component of the nature of reality and is almost synonymous with consciousness: Free will creates meanings but has no meaning itself. Free will cannot emerge after billions of years of mechanical determinism. Free will is necessarily unpredictable and cannot be pre-planned. Reality is thus fundamentally about unpredictable choices and their unforeseeable consequences as feedback loops that enable consciousness to evolve, via iterative learning through successive sets of preferences over time, rather than devolve, where unchecked devolution would be a decay into the patternless chaos that is the full-entropy or fully dormant state of consciousness/existence. So meaning making selects, via free-will choices and in a survival-oriented way, those sets of preferences that further consciousness’ evolution, a process that makes it richer, wealthier/healthier over time. Evolution cannot be about uncritical obedience or blind loyalty to some absolute good.

What this boils down to is that we are, as conscious beings, co-creators of our future via our choices, inescapably. Not solipsistically, but in terms of our individuated interdependence and moral culpability for our choices and actions. Only we can do the work that is our growing up to finally become capable of making only, or primarily, those choices that tend to promote health/wealth over time. Logically, the more of us actively and knowingly engaged in this, the better for all of us.

I am because we are. The quality of my continuation depends on the quality of our continuation.

It’s like in The Iron Giant. At the end of Ted Hughes’ wonderful story, the Iron Giant must choose whether it becomes a merciless, unthinking weapon or loving superhero. It is not fundamentally one or the other, it is ‘merely’ a patterning of data with a certain set of attributes, as we all are.

Humanity is now face-to-face with an Iron Giant-like decision. An epoch-ending bifurcation point is upon us as a species, one part of which is our political economics. Any new political economics capable of properly addressing steady-state growth while encouraging the healthy maturation or qualitative growth of all its subjects will likely be radically different to today’s capitalist orthodoxy that holds perpetual economic growth and monetary profit as absolute goods. Time will tell whether we evolve into something more nuanced and loving, or devolve into something more dictatorial, fearful, exploitative and controlling than is currently the case. The choice is ours.

As always, our ability to choose how our future unfolds, depends directly on how we mature as individuals, and thus as a species, towards love.

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Orthodox Economists Trapped in Maslow's Bottom

In my last post, I briefly defined health as a complex and living whole: “the dynamically interoperating totality of your physical, emotional, psychological, spiritual, relationship (with Other, including the environment), career and financial health over time”. No doubt many would draw a connection between this definition and Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. The latter is the subject of this post.

I used to like Maslow’s pyramid, but now find it restrictive in its clear-cut departments, as well as off target due to its focus on needs. I know of people who operate from a place of love, and from that a calm confidence the universe will provide. They operate from the upper section first but as a manifestation of love, trusting/knowing that the other sections will take care of themselves. For them, the pyramid’s dynamic is reversed, and in fact not really a pyramid at all. In my view, this is the necessary state of being of a mature consciousness, a mature soul.

The system we occupy and co-create is obsessed with Maslow’s lowest section. We experience the other sections as variations of it, understand and experience them through its lens; esteem is the consequence of conspicuous consumption and possession of as many status symbols as possible, relationships are first possible after we have demonstrated our worthiness through our success as property accumulators, the more we own the safer we are, and so on.

Obviously, my assertions here are a caricature of a very complex situation that has all manner of cross currents and counter influences.  But at root Maslow’s is a pyramid of needs. Love, for example, has little to do with Self’s needs, but rather with what is best for Other. The pyramid is thus a fear-based interpretation of reality: what do I, fundamentally separate from but surrounded by a threatening environment, need to survive, then thrive? Operating from a state of fear, we are acquisitive, cynical and suspicious. We can’t help but perceive reality as a finite pool of necessarily scarce resources for which we fight against all enemy Others to meet our needs. Life is a hard struggle. Only a fortunate few can climb to the top spot and enjoy the view from those superior heights. On the whole, this generates and justifies elitism and its Hobbesian sensibility regarding the rule of law and the need for a forceful state.

More prosaically and as demonstrated by The Story of Stuff, the constant output from the worlds of advertising and public-relations is a siren song crafted to fix our gaze on the bottom of the pyramid, to forever remind us, both subtly and grotesquely, that below it lies a hellish and precarious existence.  All this inrushing energy wildly inflates the importance of our base needs so that they pervade and colour everything else we see. This is the atmosphere we live in, the all-encompassing water we have a hard time perceiving as a deliberate construction.

As we begin to mature by patiently tackling our own fears, Maslow’s pyramid slowly stops making sense. We no longer live in insoluble scarcity but are instead surrounded by abundant opportunities to grow qualitatively. The rich diversity of people that surround us represent real wealth simply by virtue of that diversity. Our motivation becomes the rich rewards of participation and contribution, the meaningfulness of tending the totality of the garden that is our whole environment. Self is catered for via its love for Other. Esteem is not an end-goal or even a requirement, it is an irrelevance. Self-actualisation is a necessary consequence of a mature consciousness.

But this does not mean we no longer have physical needs. It means we tend to them in the same spirit of love that we tend to everything else. There is always work to be done, there’s just no need to do it fearfully, with a worried eye swivelled to status and esteem. 

Can we develop an economics that emerges from a love-based, fluid approach to reality? That will become apparent as more and more of us choose health and maturity of consciousness as our guiding lights.