Thursday, August 24, 2017

The terror of articulating my thoughts

One of the petty comforts of not finding the time to write and articulate my thoughts is not having to wrestle with the strength of my arguments and my logic.  So if nothing else is worth taking away here, let's just assume that more of the people who argue in the world should also have to write.

Since the world is on fire with every flavor of enmity, and I have that insecure temperament of a moderate, someone who is never really sure they've got it figured out and who tries really hard to listen with my best effort at dispassion to every side of every argument, I tried really hard to dig through this interview with Renauld Camus.  (Because said temperament makes me inclined to slog through all the political philosophy I can stand.)  It's a really difficult read, partly because the interview itself was clearly uncomfortable, and partly because it's easy to quickly disagree with elements of Camus' argument and then summarily dismiss it in its entirety.  I briefly debated it with Michael Austin and while we both agreed that (this) Camus treated race and phenotype as entirely too static of a thing, I still came away unsettled about this idea of a universal fear (or at least propensity for a fear) of replacement.  And here's where my brain went.

From what I can tell, especially after my long incubation period of studying identity construction and performance during my Master's Thesis research, the tools most people use to build their senses of self are very language-centric, and are subject to all the limitations of semiotic meaning making.  So as a person making sense of life, I latch on to words that describe to me what I am or what I am not, but by so doing I inherit the boatloads of baggage that come with those words.  Rarely/never does all that baggage actually apply to my lived experience, but as I claim that word, over time I absorb at least some of that baggage.  So each of us should, perhaps be extremely thoughtful about this process, but a huge proportion of it has already happened long before we are old enough to even be taught what "semiotics" means.

The direction I'm headed with this is that these words, these self-identifiers, have the potent ability to become idols and false gods for us.

An example: at the end of the year in 4th, 5th, and 6th grade, my elementary school teachers handed out individualized certificates to each student, saying "you win the class award for most _____."  My award for each of these years was the same: "Most Creative."  With that kind of reinforcement, it was easy for me to accept and internalize an identifier for myself: I am creative.  Only I knew there were a lot of ways to be creative and that I wasn't most of them.  I lacked the ability to purposefully create anything visual.  I couldn't draw or paint worth beans and my handwriting was utter chicken scratch. So I dealt with some cognitive dissonance as I tried to define myself as a "creative" person who would have perhaps been better described as "imaginative."  But as long as I clung to "creative" I felt guilt and failure at being.   And as long as I felt like the primary "thing" I was supposed to be was "creative" I was going to feel that way.

The same thing happened in high school, where I was flagged as a "high achiever" and "valedictorian."  I left high school feeling like if I didn't achieve something tremendous then everyone would view me as a disappointment.  (Hint: I often struggle with feeling like a disappointment.)  If I hadn't absorbed "high achiever" into my identity construction, and given it such precedence, then perhaps it'd be easier for me to believe my perennial affirmation "you are enough."

So, back to applying this to the world at large.  Here's where I am.  I come back to wondering what sort of an identity construction could we engage in that would ease or eliminate this fear of replacement?  What things could we believe about who we are that would make the world wide enough (for Hamilton and me)?

Well, here's where I get spiritual/religious.  But I'm also being philosophical/metaphysical (as much as I'm able) - so take whichever of those avenues makes this most meaningful for you.

If I am able to set and maintain my primary identity construction around "I am a child of God, of infinite and anti-fragile worth."  Then it has the power to eliminate this fear of replacement that, perhaps, lies beneath and behind a lot of the anger and hate and poor logic in the world.  If I am a child of God, then you can be too, and it does not diminish me or render my value less certain.  My heart gets cracked open wide enough to allow wishes for successes and love all around, without any fear of anyone else's value to threaten my own.

It occurs to me that placing any other primary identity marker above this one, has the potential to pinch off our hearts and create space for that fear of replacement.  If the primary thing I am is smart, then someone else could be smarter than me and what does that leave me to be?  If the primary thing I am is pretty, then who am I once my beauty fades?  If the primary thing I am is part of a normative culture, then who am I if that culture is being shifted and challenged?  If the primary thing I am is my ideology or political party, then who am I if I ever allow for the strengths of a counter-argument?  If the primary thing I am is my race or my phenotype, then who am I when I'm confronted with the fluidity and messiness of empires, invasions, barbarism, and cultures throughout history?

So what I'm wondering, and it's a pulsing, nascent, developing idea, beyond whether this concept has any merit, is whether it has any application.  There's a lot of people wanting to resist hate, but how do you effectively eliminate or change these kind of tensions?  How do you change hearts?  I concur that education is a powerful tool, but you cannot teach someone who doesn't trust you.  You really cannot teach someone who believes you dislike them.  "Kids don't learn from people they don't like."  So there's something - some kind of work, that has to precede any effective education.  What might that look like?

I'm drawn into a couple of non-competing corners here.  There's Paulo Friere and his Pedagogy of the Oppressed.  His concern with treating people as agents in their own education and not just subjects to be acted upon by teachers.  The importance of waiting to teach until the student's mind and heart are ready.  He was mostly concerned with the minds and hearts of oppressed people: those in poverty and minorities.  But I wonder how many of his principles can apply to any population that is clinging to dysfunctional beliefs that resist the love and equality required for a Zion community (of "there were no poor among them" i.e. - there are no hearts set upon inequality).  It's a lofty vision, but possibly a constructive direction?

Another thought is of Crucial Conversations and it's attendant tools.  There are absolute minefields of safety problems being ignored in social discourse today is mind boggling.  What if everyone took the idea of "safety first" to heart and tried to make sure their conversations were safe places where people could come to the table vulnerable and open-minded before dispensing with their logic and arguments?  Can you even imagine that world?  Is it possible that  THAT is the primary issue at the heart of all the rancorous discord in the world?  Is the issue as much HOW we are engaging in dialogue as WHAT we are debating?  Admittedly that would be a hard point to measure or prove, but it would give both sides of any debate something to work on in themselves.  And we all know that we're far more likely to make progress at changing ourselves than at changing anyone else, right?  (Please tell me we've figured that one out.)

It also strikes me as far more... constructive?   To be trying to convince someone else "you are a child of god, you are enough.  You have a value beyond your imagination that no power on this earth can diminish (and that you cannot yourself measurably increase) - rather than trying to convince them "you are wrong and you are a horrible person."  So there's that.

But obviously I haven't completed any rigorous thought experiments here.  This is just a lady with an overactive penchant for philosophy, who happens to be trying to keep a household with 5 small children afloat while she gestates a 6th one into being.  Pondering these things is more appealing to me than more domestic tasks, but I haven't exactly got the resources to do anything justice right now. Still, fleshing my thoughts out and forcing them into paltry, stumbling words felt like a justifiable act.

No comments:

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...