Saturday, September 13, 2014

I am not the passenger

I love ya Iggy, but I, for one, am not the passenger, and realising that has started me down a very interesting path.

In my last post I hinted at an experiment on myself that had helped me with anxiety.  In effect it has helped me in more ways than that.  It is helping me become more mindful of my thoughts and feelings and has allowed me to even quiet my mind at night.

I've always been interested in the concept of Mindfulness, in both the spiritual and psychological senses, but as I alluded to in my previous post, I was never felt disciplined enough to persist with practices such as meditation or Cognitive Based Therapy.  Having said that, much like my "thankfulness" trick, I might have stumbled across another mind-hack to help me become what one of my life teachers calls the "observer/witness".

It all started on one of my many drives home from work:  I was on an 80 kph rural road, and some guy was coming out of a driveway ahead of me. He paused at the edge of the driveway to take a look, and must have seen me coming, yet continued to turn out onto the road anyway.  Now, here's where my ego came in, because truly I could have put on my breaks at that point.  Truly I had enough time to just slow down to about 60 kph and let him back-out in front of me — but you see my ego was saying "I shouldn't have to slow down.  I am going the speed limit and I have the right of way..." blah, blah, blah.  So with my ego on full blast, I instead pulled into the left lane to go around him, honked my horn and proceeded down the road at 80 kph.

Well, this obviously pissed this guy off, because he proceeded to gun his engine to catch up to me and followed me extremely closely, in an aggressive manner.  I got to the next stop sign, took my usual left turn onto a 50 kph road; he followed. The guy continued to tailgate me closely, but I think going exactly 50kph was too slow for him, because he quickly pulled out to get around me, screeched his tires and sped away.

We never spoke and I never saw him again.  I don't think that man lived at that house either; I've driven past it on hundreds of occasions since then and have never seen this guy's car in the driveway.  Nevertheless, almost every time I was in my car alone and drove past that house my mind would replay the events. I would often think about what I would have said to this guy had I decided to, let's say, stop my car and get out and ask him "what's your problem?"  I'd run through scenarios and what he'd probably say or do, and what I'd say or do in return.  It's ridiculous, but this was the type of thing that my brain often did — it would have these imaginary arguments that never happened. *facepalm*  I was a Brooder and Holder of Grudges of the highest class!

So on one of these many days when this imaginary argument played out in my head, and I was busy getting myself all riled-up, it finally struck me: "Why do I do this to myself?" But instead of asking me I asked the passenger. I asked that voice that whispers at your ear.  The voice that comes from the part of yourself that is based in fear; that primordial part of your brain that is based in survival and fight-or-flight levels of thinking. "Why do you do this?"  "What do you have to gain by reliving this scenario over and over again?"  "Why replay a scenario that has not and will not ever happen?"  "Why relive such negative emotion for no reason?"  "How does this help?" "Is it helping you accomplish anything?  Because it sure doesn't seem to be helping me do anything but feel like shit every time I drive by here..."

And you know what?  There was only silence.  There was no response. No retort. No explanation.  Just silence.

The passenger, you see, can only make suggestions.  If you ask it to explain itself, it won't answer.  It can't answer.  It is not coming from a place of logic and reason.  It's not that evolved. Its messages are solely based on autonomic responses to outside stimuli.  Fear-based.  Fight or flight. It's messages are also often limiting, like thoughts of self-doubt and possible negative outcomes that keep us from taking risks.  It also likes to create mental roadblocks to keep us from considering ideas that poke holes in our currently held views.

Okay...so it's at this point that I feel the need to assure my dear readers that I'm not suffering from an onset of schizophrenia.  I'm not talking about some disassociated voice directing me to do things with verbal commands that I can hear in my head like a phone conversation. What I'm talking about is the voice that we all have inside our heads.  The voice that speaks in the first person.  The voice that says "I'm hungry", "I'm tired," "this feels nice," "I think that's weird," "I'm not so sure about this," "I don't like this." And it's not like we "hear" these things said outright in words in our brains; these are things we just kinda...well....think.

I believe that there are actually 2 places from which thoughts arise.  There are the lower, reactionary, automatically and anatomically-based thoughts — i.e. the "I'm hungry", "this is scary", "I don't like this" kind of thoughts; these come from your passenger.  Then there are the thoughts that are capable of higher thinking — it's the part of the mind/self that analyses why you're hungry, scared, or repulsed by something.  It's also the part of the brain that is creative, inquisitive, inclusive and expansive. It's the part that thinks outside the box and considers different and new ways of looking at things than you did before.

To me the passenger is just an organ, much like a liver or spleen; it has it's function. I also believe that most of us humans confuse it with our true consciousness/enlightened mind/observer mind (I'm still trying to think of a term for this, but let's go with the "observer mind", the "OM").

I believe the OM is our true selves.  It is the consciousness that inhabits our blood and flesh shell.  Our body is the vehicle of our OM — it is a biological machine that the OM inhabits. The OM is what no longer presents itself after the body expires — some might say it is what "leaves the body" when we die. I suppose it is what some would call "the soul".

The passenger however, is just another organ that sends us messages — it's just a part of our brain that receives data from our other organs and then takes the data and sends you a message to let you know.  The thing is the passenger often makes rash, uninformed decisions about what this data means. To make matters worse, the passenger's messages and the thoughts of the OM come through the same "pipe" and in the same "inside voice", so we often fall under the illusion that these thoughts are both coming from the same place.  After all, there are thoughts being generated in your head and they are coming from your brain, which is part of your body.  So that's you having those thoughts, right?

Have you ever had someone say something or do something that triggered an automatic, angry, obstinate response that you later regretted, having realised that what you said in anger was completely wrong and out of line? But at the same time it felt so "right" when you said it, didn't it?

Even crazier, have you ever regretted a comment you made at the exact moment that you were making the comment itself?  It's like you are feeling hurt, analysing what was said and formulating a regrettable response and finally saying it, yet at that exact moment you are also thinking "shit, I shouldn't be saying this". It's like a movie playing out in first person with director commentary: "Now here's where the protagonist puts his foot in his mouth..."

So, who's controlling your mouth?  Who's making your brow furrow and bringing blood to your face and making you express an angry "thought" towards that other person?  And who's saying "shit, I shouldn't be saying this," at the very same time?

The seeming ability of the human mind to observe it's own thoughts is so deliciously paradoxical.  You are, in effect, using your mind to think about how your mind thinks. You are using thoughts to observe your own thoughts.  It's like an Escherian stairwell of the mind.  If it is you having those thoughts, then who is it that is thinking about those thoughts?

This is a question for the ages and certainly I am not the first to ponder it; this ego/higher-self dichotomy is present in many of the ancient philosophies and practices of the East. I also believe that the many great teachers of history (Buddha, Christ, Baha'ullah et al) were simply regular flesh and blood humans that managed, through consistent and thorough inner-reflection, to be able to accurately identify which voice was which and truly understanding each "thought" for what it was, making them able to choose the "higher" or "enlightened" response throughout most of their lives.  And like many aspects of the human condition, I believe humans lie on a spectrum between being directed by the passenger and the OM, and I believe that this can change and fluctuate in the micro (from minute to minute) to the macro (over a person's life time).  I think that most of us slide more towards the OM side as we age, just simply because of knowledge accumulated via experience.  Some of us get closer than others before we die. Some of us reach the OM state earlier in life than others.

So getting back to my mind-hack: That day, when I first asked the passenger to explain herself and realised that she could not formulate a response, I gave my passenger a name.  Her name is Naggy Maggy.  I found that giving her a name helped me to further separate her thoughts from my OM. It gave my passenger an identity and made it more comfortable to have dialog with it.

Once I had given my passenger a name, anytime I found myself playing through these conversations in my head I would call her out and say "Hey. Maggy. Cut it out."  And she would stop.  Often a few minutes later I would be caught unawares and Maggy would start nagging again, so again, I'd talk to her and ask her why she was persisting in bring up whatever thoughts she was bringing up and I'd remind her that the scenario she was playing out wasn't actually happening and that there was no point in creating this anxious state. Making me feel anxious was not helping anything, in fact it was only making my current state worse.  And she would stop.

And this helped me greatly at night too.  I used to be a person that would have racing thoughts at night that would keep me from from sleeping. Now when I go to bed and these thoughts start up I just say "Maggy, I don't want to think of this stuff right now. I'm tired and want to sleep.  I can't fix these problems at this very moment and all you are doing is keeping me from sleeping."  The first time I did this, Maggy stopped and immediately after I said this (and much to my surprise) I yawned.  It's like I reminded my body that I was tired and it said "yeah, you're right I am tired, let's do this," and I passed out.

I would say that I first named Maggy about a year and a half ago and since then I've found I have to speak to her less and less and I rarely even call her by name.  I just speak to her directly: "Nope. We're not going there." "Now, you know that doesn't make sense." etc...

Now, I am by no means a master of my passenger and I get tripped up all of the time.  It's one thing to talk to Maggy while driving my car, alone in my thoughts. It's another to try to observe and react while interacting with someone else.  This, my friends, is still a great challenge for me.  It's challenging enough to recognise the passenger's thoughts when they arise, but to do so while also speaking (especially when speaking of things I feel passionately about) feels to me like learning to pat your head while rubbing your tummy.  Having said that, like patting your head and rubbing your tummy, with enough practice it is possible to do it, and I'm happy to say that I am at the point in my life where I appreciate the practice.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Thanks!

In contrast to most of my writings of late, which are usually complaints or critiques, this post is about something I'm being proactive about in my own life.  As I had alluded to in my post in November, I am conducting some thought experiments in an effort to counteract some of the negative patterns in which I have gotten stuck over my lifetime.

As discussed in my post about depression, I take issue with the assumption that if you are depressed, then this means that there is something wrong with your brain.  However, perhaps somewhat contradictorily, I also believe that reality is subjective and that regardless of ones circumstances, people can fall into a compounding cycle of negative thinking due to a type of confirmation bias.

The pessimists among us (and I say this being a recovering pessimist myself) tend to expect the worst.  For example, if you are a pessimist it would not be unusual for the following type of dialogue to pop in your brain during your morning commute: "Traffic is so slow today; I bet you I'm going to be late."

Now, if the worst actually doesn't happen and you make your destination on time, you will likely think something to the effect of "huh, well, I lucked out," then slough it off and never think about it again.

However, if you are late, as you had predicted, you will go "ah ha! I knew it!" and your mood for the next few hours will be affected and the event will stick in your mind. If it happens 3 more times you will say to yourself: "See! This always happens to me, no matter how early I leave!" — yet, had you actually taken time to record every time you rode the subway and how many times you were late you'd probably find out that you were late an awful lot less than you think.

As stated before, I recognise that reality is subjective; a simple example of this would be how a bunch of people can witness the same event and have wildly varied accounts of what happened when asked.  We all have organs in our bodies that have to translate reality in a way that our brains can process, and given we aren't infallible computers there is bound to be a difference in how each of our brains process the same data. So what we often call "reality" is really only a personalised reflection of but a sliver of the whole truth, and therefore we really are responsible for shaping our own reality.

So, for a while I had been considering a way to deal with this propensity for negative confirmation bias within myself and trying to rewire my brain to look at "reality" a different way.  I've certainly been introduced to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy by psychologists and counselors in the past; unfortunately I have not yet been disciplined enough to stick with the journaling and reflection required by the program.  To make matters worse, I would feel shame and disappointment at not being able to stick with it, which would do nothing but make me sadder... Damn those vicious circles!

After concluding that my anxiety about not being able to catch my negative thought patterns before they happened was only making things worse, I realised I needed a different approach.  Thinking back to the confirmation bias mechanism, I wondered if there was a way to make the good times stick in my mind — the times when I lucked out, the times when everything fell into place, when everything worked out in the end, or simply the times when things worked out the way they should have.

One day when I was feeling particularly down, I decided to revisit a philosophy called Ho'oponopono — a philosophy I had been introduced to on the blog of Mary Elizabeth Croft, whom I have mentioned in my post about the Freeman/Sovereign/Natural Person awakening.  Ho'oponopono is an ancient native-Hawaiian practice of reconciliation and forgiveness, and I first heard of it in relation to psychologist Dr. Hew Len.

Now, this was my first introduction to Hew Len, and while what I read seemed intriguing, I couldn't get past the new-agey lady that was trying to share Dr. Len's ideas and entreating one to accept a free download.  I don't have any interest in finding out, but something tells me that this download would include info on seminars that you can pay to attend, etc... Hew Len and his practices were also apparently featured in a book called Zero Limits by Joe Natale (of whom I am unfamiliar).  From what I've read in web-reviews of that book, it would seem the overwhelming majority felt that the underlying theories of Hew Len were of interest and inspiration, but the book was spoiled by Natale's constant promotion of his other books and seminars, so I don't think I'll be reading any of Natale's work anytime soon either.

However, from what I have gathered via the web, the claim is that Hew Len worked as a staff psychologist for Hawaii State Hospital from 1984 till 1987 in a ward for the "criminally insane".  Allegedly, after 3 years of working there, he was able to turn the ward around to the point where wrist and ankle restraints were no longer used and violence almost ceased to exist.  Eventually there were so few patients remaining that the ward was closed. It is claimed that Hew Len achieved this without actually meeting with any patients to conduct therapy or counseling. He claimed this happened because he worked on cancelling within himself whatever it was that he was experiencing as problems with the patients in that ward.  He does this by thanking "the Divinity" and by asking it to erase in him the negative thoughts and feelings that his mind produces and that make him experience things negatively; he also refers to this as erasing "bad data." 

I feel I should qualify here that the idea of communicating with some sort of higher being or power and asking them to take away one's negative thoughts, in order to fix the problems of other people, does sound a little strange, to say the least.  I am firmly on the fence about whether or not there is a "divinity" (or divinities) out there in the universe, or outside of our dimension, or reality or whatever; I am also not so sure that we would be able to communicate with such a being, or that it would even give a shit.  I also read Dawkins' God Delusion and loved it — I couldn't help but smirk to myself as I read the arguments that he so deftly presented about why and how the arguments for the existence of a God are based on logical fallacies or faulty reasoning. 

Conversely, I also feel that there is a conundrum in us humans trying to decide for ourselves if we are the end-all-and-be-all or not.  It's kind of like an ant looking at his ant hill and its miles of interconnected tunnels, as well as his colony, who work tirelessly and in beautiful unison, not giving a second thought to sacrifice themselves for the good of the colony, and he might think to himself: "Look at what we've accomplished! Why should I think there is anything out there better than this?  Who could possibly hold more control over ones destiny than us?"  Yet that ant has no idea of what we humans do, feel, think and accomplish; they are completely unable to conceptualise the world at the human scale, and what goes on at our level. of existence.

It is all a matter of perspective. We don't have the benefit of a third-party perspective on our own reality.  We are burdened with our own biases and our own self-built realities, therefore we can never see the "bigger picture" as it were.  As the saying goes: "there's your side and my side and then there's the truth."

Having said all of that, what attracted me to Ho'oponopono is the idea that what happens in your reality is your responsiblity.  Like I said in the third part to my Government, Shmovernment post, "You can't control outcomes and you can't control others; the only thing you can control is your reaction to them," and Ho'oponopono is very much in line with these ideas. 

This blogger described Ho'oponopono as follows:

Simply put, Ho’oponopono is based on the knowledge that anything that happens to you or that you perceive, the entire world where you live is your own creation and thus, it is entirely your responsibility. A hundred percent, no exceptions.

Your boss is a tyrant? It’s your responsibility. Your children are not good students? It’s your responsibility. There are wars and you feel bad because you are a good person, a pacifist? The war is your responsibility. You see that children around the world are hungry and malnourished if not starving? Their wont is your responsibility. No exceptions. Literally, the world is your world, it is your creation. As Dr. Hew Len points out: didn’t you notice that whenever you experience a problem you are there?

It’s your responsibility doesn’t mean it’s your fault, it means that you are responsible for healing yourself in order to heal whatever or whoever it is that appears to you as a problem. 

It might sound crazy, or just plain metaphorical, that the world is your creation. But if you look carefully, you will realize that whatever you call the world and perceive as the world is your world, it is the projection of your own mind. If you go to a party you can see how in the same place, with the same light, the same people, the same food, drink, music and atmosphere, some will enjoy themselves while others will be bored, some will be overenthusiastic and some depressed, some will be talkative and others will be silent. The “out there” for every one of them seems the same, but if one were to connect their brains to machines immediately it would show how different areas of the brain would come alive, how different perceptions there are from one person to the next. So even if they apparently share it, the “out there” is not the same for them, let alone their inner world, their emotions. 

This message really hits home with me.  Responsibility.  If you see a problem, it is truly your problem.  If you see a problem, whether or not you feel you have any part in causing it, it is your responsibility to do something about it.  And given our reality is subjective and just a projection of our own mind, then it only follows that the "problems" that we see around us are projections of our own minds as well — it is the way that our brain has chosen to interpret the data that was fed into it, and so this idea of "erasing the bad data" makes sense to me.

These ideas have all lead me to the little experiment I have been undertaking. (It took me long enough to get to it, right?!) Nowadays, whenever something good happens to me, even small things, I take a second, I look up to the sky and I say "thank-you."  Every time I'm in a rush and find my car keys in the very first place I look, every time I just make a green-light while driving, whenever I assume the worst and the worst doesn't happen, I express gratitude.  And I think it's working.

The mechanism of why this might be working also made me think of a medical study (unfortunately I can't find anything about it on the web, otherwise I would have linked to it here), where they were treating people suffering from PTSD by having the patients take some sort of drug that elicited pleasant feelings, (probably an opioid of some sort or maybe MDMA) while the patient verbally recounted their traumatic trigger event.  After repeated sessions, eventually when the patient would think of the event, they would no longer feel the symptoms of their stress disorder because their body now associated pleasure with the memory.  It tells me that there maybe something to the idea that the problems we see in life are our responsibility to erase — that if someone or something is bothering you, it is really your problem.

Somewhere in my endless web surfing I came across discussions about a book, which I've added to my "like to read" list, called The User Illusion, by Tor Norretranders. From what I've read from the reviews of others (such as here, here and here) in the book Norretranders postulates that our conscious mind is but an illusion that we believe is ourselves; that truly there is much more processing happening in our subconscious mind and that but a fraction gets pushed to the conscious mind.  Not only that, but our subconscious is aware of things before our conscious mind, but somehow our conscious mind tricks us into believing we were "conscious" of something occurring the very instant that it was happening, when in fact we were not.  The consciousness also tends to get in our way — like when we "over think" things.  Anyone who has ever mastered a skill — be it making the perfect pool shot, or playing a flawless piece of music — knows what it is like to be in "the zone", where things just seem to "feel" right, where you almost feel like it isn't really you making the decisions, your body just kinda does the right thing, because you are working from your subconscious.  Yet the times when you consciously think "okay, so I'm going to have to move my hand this way and apply this much pressure at this rate" you actually flub it. 

Norretranders postulates that our consciousness can only handle 20 bits of data per second and yet via our various senses we are actually taking in about 12 million bits/second and all of this gets processed by our subconscious; and to make this 12 million bits processable by our conscious mind it compacts the data into chunks that our consciousness can handle. So it gives us objects, or symbols (the chunks) to work with; it works much like a graphical interface on a computer - presenting us with physical icons and buttons that we can  use to interface with a computer, which is actually processing through millions of 1s and 0s in the background.  So given my brain can only throw a fraction of the data it is presented with towards my conscious mind, it only makes sense to try to get rid of those negative chunks.  Why waste time on that?

So my thankfulness experiment seems to be working. I don't know if it is so much the act of thanking a "divinity" who then smiles down on me and makes things better, but that the simple act of being thankful and truly feeling the emotion of gratitude actually does "clear the data" as it were or that "chunk" that the subconscious tends to throw at me when certain situations arise.  And maybe, in the end, that is all that prayer or demonstrating reverence and gratitude to a "higher power" does.  Maybe we've just built all of these religious stories about some power outside of ourselves, when all we are really doing is speaking to our own subconscious.

Which makes me think of the first thought-pattern experiment I conducted on myself, that seems to have helped me with anxiety, but I'll save that for another post.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Government, shmovernment - Part 4

If you can't change the world...

As you can see, I'm having more and more difficulty explaining away in my mind why it is okay for one group of people (be they the majority of people or not) to decide what is right for the rest of us.  Given this fact I'm also becoming more and more uneasy about giving another group of privately owned policy-enforcement officers the authority to arrest and detain me and to use force against me in order to enforce the laws that we all have supposedly agreed to by simply not leaving this imaginary area (i.e. "country") in which we stand.  I'm feeling less and less like this was set-up in this way to help the "little guy", or the "99%" as it were.  I'm feeling more and more like this system is set-up to make the majority a lot more manageable for the minority...or at least that this is what this system has become. Our unquestioning devotion to a system that very few of us truly understand feels very much like how we humans have blindingly obeyed the various religious oligarchs, monarchs and dictators in history.  And I don't think we need to "change the system", I really think we need to un-plug for a while and start to focus individually on ourselves and immediate families and communities and to fix our own backyards first.  We also need to reevaluate the very basis of our assumptions about the type of system we need or want to live, and want the rest of the world to be able to live as well.

To me anarchy means personal responsibility.  Worry about yourself, your children and your own backyard first.  Get your own affairs in order and be truly conscientious of your personal affects on the world around you.  If everyone did that there would be a lot fewer social problems in the world.

Admittedly this type of personal responsibility attitude is very difficult when one lives in a world where much of life's necessities are provided by a third party, not to mention a world that I think is quite destructive to most humans during their most important and formative years. We live in a world today that still by and large believes that using corporal punishment in child rearing is both effective and necessary, and that schoolyard bullying is just a natural way that kids interact. I'm wondering how much our present society skews the true essence of the human spirit.  Very few children in the Western World today have the benefit of having a parent at home full time to rear them in their formative years, and fewer and fewer children have their biological parents living together.  A large proportion of our society suffers from some sort of abuse, neglect or disconnectedness as children.  A lot of us are not getting a good start in life.  Many of us have not learned how to form positive, productive and healthy relationships. Many of us have not been equipped with coping strategies.  And then many of us are also having children of our own...  This is just a recipe for societal fucked-upedness.  So, no, we couldn't just get rid of government and not expect some serious hardship. Perhaps to start some small communities could form and show others what it is possible, but for society as a whole to reach this type of world will take generations, in my opinion.

Being the misanthrope that I am, unfortunately I think this system is going to crash long before we get our shit together as a species.  I just hope we can think about this stuff now, while we have the "free time", resources and infrastructure (particularly the internet) to flesh it out and discuss it.

The way our society is run used to get me really down. Sometimes I feel like a sane person living in an insane world and that the people at large are so brainwashed by the ideas fed to us by our education systems, media and other CLOG run institutions, that they will never live up to even a fraction of their potential as humans, and yet here I sit in a house fully connected to the grid, typing away on my computer made by slave labor overseas after having eaten a meal whose ingredients certainly were not grown nor processed by me.  So instead of complaining about how fucked up the rest of the world is, I'm going to try and "be the change [I] want to see in the world". 

It truly is the least I can do.

Government, shmovernment - Part 3


Idle hands

My paternal grandmother was a hard-working woman.  She did not waste one tin, piece of paper or scrap of food.  She was very crafty and could always make me a piece of clothing within a day or two. And while our history books would tell us about the "Dirty Thirties" as a time of misery and hardship, my grandmother looked back fondly on the times of the Great Depression; it was a time of community and efficiency; a time where most people were on an equal footing and helped one another.

How I wish I could discuss these things with her now that I am approaching middle-age... While I certainly found her a little gruff and obstinate as a child — rightfully chastising me for wanting to sit in front of the boob-tube instead of going somewhere or making something, and making me eat a strange concoction of the entire week's leftovers because nothing could be wasted — I am now able to better appreciate her wish to live well within her means and to be as self-sufficient as possible. And thanks in part to my Grandma, I am able to see how a modest amount of resources can actually be a good thing, how it can help to put us all on a more level playing field and bring us closer together with others in our community.

While technology and innovation has allowed the majority of us Westerners to leave the long days of rural life behind — providing us more free time, the time to ponder the greater questions in life, the time to allow us to peer outside the boxes of our own immediate lives in order to analyse our world from the micro to the macro — I'm beginning to wonder if some of our societal ills are actually a product of the very fact that we have too much free time on our hands.

I once heard a guest on the Joe Rogan podcast reference a book called Guns, Germs and Steel; I don't remember if this was according to Western history or the Maori themselves, but apparently in the book it talks about how the Maori once lived solely on the land formation that is now called New Zealand and had an abundance of resources; since resources were plentiful this meant that the Maori had free time, and so they began to perfect tools and processes and individual Maori were able to specialise (i.e. become doctors, teachers, etc...)  They also became more competitive and violent. At some point a group of Maori decided to move to a smaller island and since this splinter group now lived in an area where resources were much less diverse and more scarce, they literally had no time or energy to waste on fighting; as a result they became a peaceful culture, that is until some of the New Zealand Maori caught up to them....

So while my initial impression of the saying "Idle hands are the Devil's playthings" was linked to images of a teacher chastising a mischievous child — insinuating that the child should be out tending fields or doing their homework rather than being an organic and inquisitive ball of wonder and energy — I am now thinking of it in a different way: I'm thinking that it might be a warning that if you have free time then chances are you aren't tending to your own affairs. 


Just ask The Stones...

Our societal structure is predicated on the ideas of entitlement, justice and recompense.  Somewhere along the line I think people confused language such as "the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" to mean that we are all entitled to these things at all times.  Many of us seem to be under the impression that if something bad happens to us, or if we are inconvenienced in some way beyond our personal control, then someone should pay.  Many of us feel that we have the right not to be inconvenienced: "I deserve to have my own piece of land, with no interruptions, so if any other human in my vicinity dares to make noise on a weeknight, I am entitled to be able to call a police officer to take care of the matter with the threat of force and incarceration behind them to ensure that my neighbour obeys."

The promise of the state is that we can control others who wrong us and we can "make them pay", but in a state of nature, without the structures of a "justice system", the only thing you have control over is your own attitude: You can't control outcomes and you can't control others; the only thing you can control is your reaction to them. And that's a tough pill to swallow sometimes (believe me, it's a pill that has been stuck in my throat for almost 4 decades.)

I believe that an anarchistic, non-statist and voluntaristic society will mean that nothing can be taken for granted and, yes, it will mean dealing with inconvenience: You may have to interact and take into account people you don't particularly like or want anything to do with; there will be that one hold-out who will foil a plan by a group of individuals working towards a common goal; your neighbour might be an inconsiderate prick that makes noise all hours of the night and there may not be a security force with guns (i.e. police) to stop him or her at a moment's notice.  Not everything will be "what you want when you want it."  Our lives will be less predictable. More organic. More like nature.

Last summer I was sitting in a local small town pub and I read an old news paper clipping posted on the wall about why the main road in the town is not a straight line through town — it actually jogs over by a couple meters to the west, just south of another major crossroad.  The reason for this jog in the road was that when it was being built there was one farmer who did not consent to having the road bisect his property.  And I'm sure that sucked for everyone else in the town, and I'm sure that farmer might have been ostracised by some for being a hold-out and not thinking of the will of the majority. but people had to suck it up and deal with it. And they did, and the town still prospers and is expanding to this very day, even with a crooked road.

Freedom means that you are free from control, therefore true freedom means that you yourself cannot control others. Freedom means that and you won't always get what you want. In a free world sometimes shit just happens and sometimes life sucks. Period. Move on.

Government, shmovernment - Part 2


Living to live

Another issue I see with statism is that it removes us from being our own providers.  It makes us reliant upon it. It literally makes us "children of the state". It reminds me of how dogs and cats retain much of their puppy and kitten-like behaviours when they are domesticated; when we supply them a consistent and seemingly limitless supply of food, shelter and belly rubs, they no longer need to express their true natures.  Not only that, but — as I've seen Cesar Millan (aka The Dog Whisperer) demonstrate on his show — the remedy for many canine psychological issues is to provide them a level of activity that their bodies and brains have evolved to support. A dog's body and mind is built to do things like hunt, find and maintain shelter, evade predators, find a mate and raise young, yet very few pets get that level of activity and challenge in their lives.

In one episode of his show, Milan helped to rehabilitate a dog by taking him to a farm to herd sheep.  This city dog had never encountered a ruminant in his life, but the instinct to herd them was so natural; and you could see the amazement on the dog owner's face...  In other episodes Millan would give a dog their own little backpack to bring on walks, or a cart to pull, which could both be used to give the dog more weight to carry — thereby giving him more exercise and tiring him out, and giving him a job, a purpose.  Doing things like these would help fix a whole host of doggy issues, from chewing up the furniture, to running around in circles, to getting aggressive with other dogs.  And I have no doubt that our own human societal ills have a lot to do with our separations from our true natures and the types and levels of activities that our bodies and brains were made to handle.

As proponents of the paleolithic diet will tell you, the human body is still made to eat what homo sapiens ate back when we were hunter gatherers.  Our diet has changed greatly since the agricultural evolution, but our bodies have not evolved to adapt to these changes and some believe that this plays a large part in physical unwellness from which we Westerners suffer.  It makes me wonder if our psychological unwellness also has a lot to do with the fact that our minds, and the way that they function, are still based on the needs of the hunter-gatherer, fending for themselves in the wilderness.

I'm thinking there might actually be something to be said about "the hard life".  Back before the advent of electricity — or perhaps at least before the advent of large-scale automation — people used to truly live to live.  You had to grow your own food, make your own clothes, build your own house, fix your own machines and tools, and you barely had the time to do anything else. I also suspect that our homo sapiens bodies and minds still expect this level of activity, but because we don't engage in so much physical exertion and mental attention anymore we develop all sorts of psychological and physical dis-eases.

Today we work to live: Most of us spend the majority of our waking hours at jobs where we do pretty much the same thing day in and day out — many of us working for companies whose product, service or end goal is of no personal interest to us — just so that we can squirrel away enough money to be able to retire, and finally "live life" in our 60s or 70s.  So not only do most of us have very sedentary jobs where we sit all day, but we are also doing tasks that, after a while, require less and less of our concentration.  This societal construct has disconnected us from the ebbs and flows of nature, from having to anticipate and adapt to organic change, and it has also disconnected us from one another; I believe that this disconnectedness plays a part in why many of us suffer from physical and mental dis-eases.

I feel that our bodies and minds need to be preoccupied and invested in the things we do day to day.  I think it is very important to truly understand, appreciate and witness the ends to your means; to see a progression to an end goal; to appreciate the changes and nuances when you do it again in a year or decade's time.  A lot of us don't get that from our daily jobs.

Our bodies are also built for far more physical activity than most of us actually exert day to day.  We were built with bodies to allow us to hunt animals for their meat, to search and gather fruits, to hike to the river for water, to gather wood for a fire.  With the advent of agriculture this need was filled by working the fields, raising animals for their meat, milk, eggs, wool, gathering materials to use for fueling stoves and and small scale machinery.  We now delegate these tasks to farmers, grocers, builders etc...

When it comes to suggesting a life without the state one often encounters questions like: "Who will pick-up my garbage?" "Where will I get a steady stream of nutritious food that I know is safe for me to eat?" "Who will provide heat, water and power to my home?" I think these are very good questions, and I also think that being directly involved in these things is actually essential to our physical, psychological and societal well-being.


What you can't see is hurting you (and others like you)

I think the idea of centralisation on many levels is wrong — be it in the governmental or corporate sense, or in the way that we humans all cluster together in densely populated cities.  Not only do I dislike centralisation due to the imbalance of power its structure provides, but because it also leads to waste and inefficiency. So in addition to my theory that being directly involved in the supplying ones own self with the necessities of life is essential to our psychological well-being, I also think it may be essential to our planet's well-being as well.  I'm certain that we wouldn't waste nearly as much if we actually had to deal with our own waste, grow our own food, produce our own energy, make our own clothing, etc. And many of us already acknowledge that the system is broken, but we also cling to the idea that it is better than no system at all, when the truth is the system has never worked, it just seemed to work because we all agreed en masse to ignore the bigger picture.

Sure, a couple of men in jumpsuits come by every week and pick up our garbage, but they are really just putting it in a pile out of sight somewhere, a pile that is nonetheless hurting the surrounding environment and wildlife.  And while our government helps to ensure a steady flow of subsidised fuels to power our vehicles and appliances — not to mention the oil used to make the plastics that are integral to our various electronic gadgets and myriads of other consumer goods — we conveniently ignore the oil and gas industry's negative effects on the environment, not to mention its negative effects on the people who live/lived in the countries from whence they came. Hell, we even send our own kids to die in these countries to ensure our CLOG's continued presence there! And while we are able to buy fairly brightly coloured, vitamin-rich, blemish-free fruits and veggies from around the world at our supermarkets, we often forget about the energy expended to grow, process, ship and store them for us — costs that far outweigh what we actually pay for them — and by buying them we are also supporting an industry that is willing to toy with the very fabric of our food's genetics, not to mention how the food industry has been known to interfere with the governments of some of the countries that grow them, often putting the citizens of said countries in harm's way. And while we have relatively uninterrupted and ubiquitous access to electricity, for the most part we are getting it from fossil fuels or nuclear power — two industries that cause their own serious and sometimes irreversible changes to our environment and who have less-than-favourable track-records when it comes to safety.

It would make more sense if we all provided power and water to our own selves, instead of connecting all of our homes to antiquated grids of pipes and power-lines stretching over thousands of kilometers. I recognise that this might not be possible for some individuals because of the geographic or meteorological challenges of where they live, and this may seem harsh, but maybe, just maybe, we should be more closely examining whether we should expect to be able to live in some of the places that we currently do, at the same level of comfort that we currently do...  

Most of us Westerners expect to have an uninterrupted supply of clean running water and electricity, and houses where there are enough individual bedrooms for all, plus an extra one for guests, at least one full bathroom with a sink, bathtub, shower and toilet, one or more vehicles, heating in the winter, heated water ...and this is the basic ideal for most.  Most people would also like a washer and dryer, a dishwasher, a TV in every room, individual bedrooms for all family members plus one for guests, high speed internet, not to mention an ever changing wardrobe of clothing, and and ever changing roster of electronic gadgets.  Most of us Westerners would also tell you that everyone in the world should be able to live at this level and it should only go up from here.  We seem to ignore that we Westerners make up a small fraction of the world's population (I've read its around 20%) and yet we use more than half of the world's resources.  (As usual I am repeating; I have no way to know if these figures are true, but I have little reason to doubt them at the moment.)  If we take these figures to be true, one does not have to be a math wiz to figure out that the world doesn't have enough resources to allow us all to live at this level.  So if we accept that the inequalities in quality of life between the Western world and many of the developing nations of the world is wrong, if we truly believe that rest of the world should be on an even playing field with the first world, and if we continue to organise ourselves the way we are in the West, that will mean we Westerners will have to scale back our level of comfort, not simply raise the rest of the world to our level.

And yes, this might mean an end to things like large-scale world travel, as well as international exports and imports.  We might all have to make due with what we can gather and grow on the lands in our immediate vicinities.  Millions of people throughout history did just that, and we present-day humans also have the benefit of the knowledge of modern science to assist us in living a level of self sufficiency that might not have been possible only a century ago. And that doesn't mean we can't share/co-opt various duties with others, in fact I should hope that we would barter and trade or even create a local exchange trading system.  This both gets us away from relying on the illogical fractional reserve banking system, but it also reconnects us with the people in our communities.

Government, shmovernment - Part 1

Ack!  If I don't post this now, I never will!

Admittedly this not exactly my most coherent post; I feel it's a bit disjointed and repetitive at times. I find the ideas I am trying to express are interconnected in so many ways that I'm not sure how to wrap it all into a clean piece, but I have been picking over it for over a year and I feel the need to finally post this sucker.   Every time I try to "buckle down" and finish this post I just wind-up adding more to it.  I also have other ideas I want to express in future posts that link back to my ideas on statism.

I'm at the point where I feel the need to finally post something and maybe I can flesh this out some more at a later date.  I'm also breaking this into parts to save you all the long read.

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In this modern era we are lulled into the idea that we can live in this near-utopia, where everything will be automated and mechanized, that all needs and wants will be quantified and processes will be perfected and tuned to the point where things are done in the most economical, equitable and in the least harmful manner.  We needn't ever worry again about where our food comes from and whether it is processed safely.  We needn't worry about having access to medical care should we fall ill. We needn't concern ourselves with the maintenance and safety of infrastructure.  We needn't concern ourselves with protecting ourselves from those who wish to do us harm.  We needn't worry about who will care for and educate our children while we work. We needn't worry about having the money and facilities to take care of us when we are old and gray. And we will do this using a system that is accountable to us, the people, through the power of our vote.

This is the promise of the State.

And I used to truly believe this; I believed that if we really had a transparent government with a true system of accountability and no private corporate involvement, and that if our scientific and technological research and development was truly driven by the quest for innovation as opposed to maximum profit, and if we were all well educated and well fed with access to "free" healthcare, then the end result would be a near-perfect society.   And even though I never suspected I would ever see such near-perfection within my lifetime, I at least saw it getting progressively better over time with the hope that eventually the rest of the world would follow suit. But I'm beginning to see some faults in these ideas. I'm leaning more and more towards the idea that a voluntaristic/anarchistic societal model is the most logical and ethical way to (un)organise ourselves, and that ultimately statism is wrong. 

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? (Who watches the watchmen?)

My first misgiving about the statist utopia goes back to my post about absolute power: I have my doubts that any government or law enforcement system can exist without eventually caving to nefarious interests.  When a small minority controls the necessities of life for the majority there is always the temptation to take advantage of that imbalance. And if anyone has to campaign for your vote and persuade you to put them into power, then inevitably there will be a twisting of the truth. And if you employ a third-party watch-group to provide oversight into governmental affairs, then the bribery and influence of the power-hungry is then focused towards that very watch-group.

So while the idea is supposed to be that the government is "for the people, by the people" and that it is the responsibility of the people to hold their governments accountable, I think I'd be hard pressed to find anyone who would argue that the system is actually working that way right now.  And does anyone really believe that it will ever change when the same interests that run our government, make our laws and enforce our laws are the same interests that sell us things and feed us TV advertisements and non-news, not to mention the same interests that provide us our education and paycheques?  Some might argue that we need a revolution, but if it takes an uprising of the people to make their government listen to them, then does that sound like democracy is a system that really works as a voice of the people in the first place?  Sometimes listening to people defend the need for government feels like a battered spouse making excuses about their abuser: "Well, I know he lies and spends most of my tax money on wars and paying-off his rich CEO buddies, but he pays for my kid's doctor visits and schooling and I feel safer knowing he's there to protect me from all the scary criminals and terrorists out there..."

While it is true that during almost every type of crisis we can pick-up the phone and have police officers rush to our aid, the downside is that we are also giving a bunch of strangers and their corporate heads — whose directives, motives and processes are not decided by you and me — a dangerous and unbalanced amount of power.  We also allow corporate interests to have a disproportionate say in the formation of the very laws to which we are all supposedly subject — laws that are so complex that we need a third party who has devoted years of study on said laws to translate and interpret them for us in court, after we've already supposedly broken them... (Wha?)  And while we like to think that most lawyers, judges and police officers are impartial, fair and altruistic individuals, the truth is that they are mere mortals who live in the same "gotta get what's mine" society that the rest of us do; they have quotas and numbers to meet in one way or another and can always justify doing some not-so-fair-and-just things to other human beings while using the same "just doing my job/I've got bills to pay and mouths to feed" excuse that the rest of us use in our own jobs. Just ask the police officers involved in the Toronto G20 debacle; I'm sure that for the most part the humans in those policy-enforcement uniforms are very well-meaning and fair-minded individuals, but within a hierarchical structure, and using the power that we as a society supposedly have consented to give them through the "social contract", they can do some terrible things to their fellow humans simply because it is what their bosses told them to do.

Some would say that the reason why governments get away with what they do today is because people in general are too lazy or wrapped-up in their own lives to hold their elected officials accountable.  I don't disagree with that, but isn't that evidence in itself that democracy doesn't work?  Do believers in democracy think that one day the general populace is just going to become magically interested and informed about political affairs?  Voter apathy is a rather convenient state of affairs for those who wield political power, is it not?  I don't know about you, but I am quite uncomfortable with the fact that the same mega corps that profit from our consumerist society also have links in government.  Not only that, but most of us spend the majority of our lives working for such corporations, then we leave work and indulge in one of the many diversions that these same corporations feed us, giving us very little free time to focus on the problems with our CLOG-run societies.  And as we plunge toward an ultra-technological age I don't see much if any movement by Western governments to truly assess and address the effects of modern media and technology on people.  There is also no denying that some very important news stories that are critical of the CLOGs of the Western World and their activities seem to get buried in the infotainment fluff pieces and scare stories du jour.

I could go on, but for a much more well worded piece on how the promises of a Utopian society are often used and twisted in order to profit the unscrupulous among us who tend to seek high positions of power, I recommend watching this short video titled The last word on Utopia by James Corbett of corbettreport.com.


Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect. —Mark Twain

I also take exception to the idea that just because the majority of people vote a certain way this therefore means that the rest of us have to be subject to their decisions for X number of years.  Twain pretty well sums up my feelings about the majority of people:  Lets face it, the peoples of the Western world at large can hardly be described as being the most informed, logical and critically-thinking in history, and yet these are the same people who are supposed to decide who is going to run things for all of us?  No thanks.

And why should anyone have to live their lives the way that the majority thinks is best anyway?  Who made that rule and, for that matter, who cares?  Some would say "well if you don't like it, feel free to move to another country", as if it is in any way logical that just because a baby pops out of a vagina within some imaginary boundaries that some white men "declared" to be such-and-such country centuries prior (whilst conveniently ignoring the existence of  the peoples already living on those same lands) thereby means that the baby is automatically subject to rules that some men wrote down in some book.  Again, "says who?"

I believe that this automatic, involuntary association with the state is wrong and totally goes against the idea that we are free people living in a world that is run by the consent of the governed.  When did I get to consent to this, and how did I consent?

For examples of some people who are asking these questions of their governments and informing them that they no longer consent, you might consider reading my post on the ideas of freemen, sovereigns and natural persons.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Yay! Another inconsistent blogger!

Man, it's been over a year since my last post! I go and leave a post about my issues with depression then go AWOL. LOL.

Not to worry folks, I haven't "joined the choir invisible."  I've actually been picking away at a post about my ever-eroding faith in Statism and why I'm starting to think that an anarchistic/voluntaristic way of life is the most ethical and logical way to (dis)organize ourselves. It's taking me forever because the ideas I am trying to express are interconnected in so many ways that I'm not sure how to wrap it all into a clean piece. Every time I tried to "buckle down" and finish it up I just wind-up adding more to it.  I'm thinking I might have to break it down into parts because it is just getting too long.  We shall see...

What I've also been doing is conducting some experiments around my diet and thought patterns that seem to be yielding positive results which I will share in a post coming up shortly.

No joke.