Most days follow on from the day before and are followed by another in such a way that at any given moment, and certainly in retrospect, the salient sensation we’re left with is of partaking in continuity. This is an aspect of the workings of the mind and is related to; and it might be said it is subsumed within; our sense of a stable personality extending via retrospection backwards through memory to include what we call, “Our Lives.” We feel that we are the same person we were in the past. We expect to continue to be the same person until we die.
In this way our inward sense of permanence and our sense of the continuity of conditions around us from day to day, year to year, are intimately related. Since we tend to consider this perception-of-experiences to be “reality” and do not consider that this might just be the way, a way, that perception, memory, a sense of self, and a sense of being-in-a-world happens to create a certain appearance; we guard and defend these appearances. Even to the point of putting this appearance, we could call this an illusion…, over and above our actual self-preservation.
It’s interesting that we use the term, self-preservation, to represent our instincts and efforts to stay alive, avoid injury, disease while the term uses a vocabulary of the self that points most directly at our sense of psychological identity instead of remaining within the context of organic preservation. We don’t even have a term for this that shows any sign of there being a difference, a conflict, incoherence in this confusion. Let me know if I’m missing something! Such a term would be more to the point. That such a term is missing, or at best esoteric and not in common usage, illuminates the paradox that we tend to value a sense of a continuity of self, a psychological peculiarity resulting from a certain clash of our psychological state at this time, over our actual continued existence.
What happens is that when we face an existential threat we end up rushing into a pantomime of incoherent reactions because we conflate the meaning of our existence as creatures, beings, society, culture, species, biosphere with the particular continuation of an illusion of a persistent psychological entity.
We not only ignore the original threat when we do this. We compound its effects by rushing off, acting on incoherent reactions we insist are necessary. Never examining whether this knee-jerk proclamation we call necessity is anything more than a rush to run away from an uncertainty we are convinced is too dangerous to contemplate. In this rush-and-return to reinstating habit over presence we are willing to kill, willing to die, to maintain this belief and all the others it defends. We are willing to defend incoherence to our last breath.
If we can sit with an assertion that it just might be better, in the sense of being more effective at meeting an existential threat for example, if we were to respond more coherently by looking more closely at the place we find ourselves instead of remaining incoherent then we should be able to summon enough common ground to proceed with this inquiry.
This might very easily be seen as a ridiculously persnickety preamble. Especially if this essay is an effort to address a critical situation we are all facing.
Doing the same thing over and over while continually expecting to get a different result than the one we’ve always gotten before is a good definition of insanity. Or so goes the saying. If this observation is true, and we keep finding that everywhere we turn everyone, including within our selves, we fulfill this definition with every action we take. It would seem to behoove us to make some concerted effort to understand why this would be and begin to look for other ways to respond to our situations.
Our current situation highlights something that has not been considered important in a time when everything was believed to take place within a realm of negotiation. Where ideas existed outside of contexts and information, the stuff that leads to the explication of forms, was confused with data, particles of potential information stripped of context and packaged as a way to avoid having to deal with messy, organic truths. We’ve come to expect that speech, writing, any attempt at discovering and communicating something vital could be replaced with a kind of ersatz, a Margarine for the Mind….
That said, it would be useful to be able to name this entire arc of stereotypical behavior with a single term. My first stab is to consider calling this frivolity, perhaps even “whiteness,” as James Baldwin points out. Perhaps we could call the effort to counter this incoherence, seriousness. Then it also seems to involve sincerity. A sense of profound and radical honesty. For now, why don’t we let these terms circulate about us while we see where all this might be going.
As David Bohm so clearly describes it in On Creativity, the mechanistic model and view of the mind cannot result in any truly creative and novel response. If we cram our potential into the mechanistic box we can never do anything that was not already in the program. Nothing, that is, other than eventually breaking down when our conditions outstrip the variability and range of nuance built into the program in the first place. The end result is always, eventually, a Blue Screen of Death. The program, “Does not compute!” and the robot, in this case us, flails about with smoke rising from its/our ears.
This pretty much describes where we are today. What this trope from early science fiction did not predict was that a lot of that smoke today turns out to be tear gas….