Silence & Wanting to Be Heard

“Is it necessary that every single person on this planet expresses every single opinion that they have on every single thing that occurs all at the same time?” he asks. “Can anyone, any single one, can anyone shut the fuck up about anything, any single thing? Can any single person shut the fuck up about any single thing for an hour? Is that possible?”

Burnham seems aware of the irony of him not shutting up about anything for an hour and a half, but maybe that’s the point: It’s an impossible request. It’s human nature to want to be heard, and the internet has amplified our voices, sometimes for the better, but often for the worse. Now, it’s up to us to recognize when the world has heard enough. Burnham knows it better than anyone: No one really wants to shut the fuck up.

-Scaachi Koul, “Why Bo Burnham, Jenna Marbles, And Shane Dawson All Logged Off.Buzzfeed. June 16, 2021.

I had never heard of Bo Burnham, Jenna Marbles or Shane Dawson prior to reading this piece of criticism. I read the quote above and it resonated. I guess, for me, I have found a happy medium for this blog in just trying to find one thing interesting a day to point to or talk about. But, there are days, and some weeks, when even that feels like a lot, where I think to myself, perhaps it would be better to post nothing at all and be silent.

But, on the other hand, I also enjoy the discipline. I’ve had at least one idea worth capturing or came across some snippet that is worth preserving as I’ve gone about my life today, haven’t I? Of course, it depends on the time scale too doesn’t it? In the grand scheme of things, nothing we do will be preserved.

As a reference point, think about all the time that Medieval monks spent copying manuscripts. This was certainly a valuable service that preserved writing from antiquity, but where is their work now? If it still exists, it is stored away in a special library or rare books collection, rarely seen by anyone. Even for something digital and assuming infinite storage capacity, what is the value of preservation anything we might say. Who is going to read it?

Or, consider how many people actually spend time reading the works of Shakespeare outside the classroom. Among a small subset of people, I’m sure he is well read. But, for most? He’s a name only. Pick a major piece of literature from antiquity to the present, and it is the same. However, maybe it is like the Japanese idea of tsundoku, of buying books and never reading them. Perhaps the value is simply that they are there as potential, whether they are ever read is besides the point.

But, perhaps, we are just engaged in wishful thinking on that score. Perhaps, the Rule of St. Benedict was right, and it is best to keep in silence.

Invisibility Sheets

“An Israeli tech company said it has developed a camouflage technology that makes soldiers on the battlefield virtually undetectable…

…The lightweight sheet is made out of a special thermal visual concealment (TVC) material, comprised of metals, polymers and microfibers. The material allows soldiers much more difficult to distinguish from nature, both with the naked eye and with thermal imaging equipment. Thus, it can be used for countersurveillance in a wide variety of military scenarios.”

-Maya Margit, “Israel develops camouflage tech that makes soldiers ‘invisible’.” Y Net News. June 15, 2021.

Mimesis, Unconscious Imitation

“What happened that night is something I now recognize as disruptive empathy. The cycle of conflict that stems from unchecked mimesis (unconscious imitation)—like that of a debt collector and a debtor, each responding mimetically to the aggression of the other—was derailed. There was an unexpected breaking in of empathy, something that transcended the moment. 

Fear, anxiety, and anger are easily amplified by mimesis. A colleague sends me an email that seems curt or disrespectful, I respond in kind; and passive aggression spreads like wildfire, beyond two people and through an entire organizational culture. 

René Girard uses the example of a handshake gone wrong to illustrate how deep-rooted mimesis is—and how it explains things we usually ascribe to simply being “reactionary.” There’s nothing trivial about a handshake. Say that you extend your hand to me, and I leave you hanging. I don’t imitate your ritual gesture. What happens? You become inhibited and withdraw—probably equally as much, and probably more, than you sensed I did to you. “We suppose that there is nothing more normal, more natural than this reaction, and yet a moment’s reflection will reveal its paradoxical character,” writes Girard. “If I decline to shake your hand, if, in short, I refuse to imitate you, then you are now the one who imitates me, by reproducing my refusal, by copying me instead. Imitation, which usually expresses agreement in this case, now serves to confirm and strengthen disagreement. Once again, in other words, imitation triumphs. Here we see how rigorously, how implacably mutual imitation structures even the simplest human relations.” 

This is how negative mimetic cycles start. We are not condemned to them, though. 

When we make the effort of getting to know people at their core, we reduce the possibility of cheap mimetic interactions. Knowing someone at their core requires sharing and listening to a particular kind of experience: stories of deeply fulfilling action. Knowing and relating to these stories produces empathy and a greater understanding of human behavior. 

A negative mimetic cycle is disrupted when two people, through empathy, stop seeing each other as rivals.”

-Luke Burgis, “Empathy Lessons … from a Hitman.” Arc Digital. June 15, 2021

Entitativity: Thinking and Feeling Together

“Our culture and our institutions tend to fixate on the individual—on his uniqueness, his distinctiveness, his independence from others. In business and education, in public and private life, we emphasize individual competition over joint cooperation. We resist what we consider conformity (at least in its overt, organized form), and we look with suspicion on what we call “groupthink.”

In some measure, this wariness may be justified. Uncritical group thinking can lead to foolish and even disastrous decisions. But the limitations of excessive “cognitive individualism” are becoming increasingly clear as well. Individual cognition is simply not sufficient to meet the challenges of a world in which information is so abundant, expertise is so specialized, and issues are so complex. In this milieu, a single mind laboring on its own is at a distinct disadvantage in solving problems or generating new ideas. Something beyond solo thinking is required—the generation of a state that is entirely natural to us as a species, and yet one that has come to seem quite strange and exotic: the group mind…

…Neither senseless nor supernatural, group thinking is a sophisticated human ability based on a few fundamental mechanisms. First, there’s synchrony: coordinating our actions, including our physical movements, so that they are like the actions of others. Second, there’s shared arousal: participating in a stimulating emotional or physical experience along with others. And third, there’s perspective-taking, in which the group takes turns seeing how the world looks through the eyes of one of its members. The extent to which these mechanisms are activated determines a group’s level of what psychologists call “entitativity”—or, in a catchier formulation, its “groupiness.” A sense of groupiness can be intentionally cultivated. The key lies in creating a certain kind of group experience: real-time encounters in which people act and feel together in close physical proximity.

-Annie Murphy Paul “How Humans Think When They Think As Part of a Group.” Wired. June 15, 2021.

Precise Passage

“In one of the last dreams in Lightman’s book, Einstein imagines a world not too dissimilar from our own, where one ‘Great Clock’ determines the time for everyone. Every day, tens of thousands of people line up outside the Temple of Time where the Great Clock resides, waiting their turn to enter and bow before it. ‘They stand quietly,’ wrote Lightman, ‘but secretly they seethe with their anger. For they must watch measured that which should not be measured. They must watch the precise passage of minutes and decades. They have been trapped by their own inventiveness and audacity. And they must pay with their lives.'”

-Joe Zedah, “The Tyranny of Time.” NOEMA. June 3, 2021.

I wanted this to be more interesting than it was, but I did like this last passage.

Hang In There Until You’re Sixty

“…try to hang in there until you’re sixty. Then you’ll find you don’t have to worry about what people say any more and, as a consequence, life becomes a whole lot more interesting.

Entering your sixties brings with it a warm and fuzzy feeling of freedom through redundancy, through obsolescence, through living outside of the conversation and forever existing on the wrong end of the stick. What a relief it is to be that mad, embarrassing uncle in the corner of the room, a product of his age, with his loopy ideas about free speech and freedom of expression, with his love of beauty, of humour, chaos, provocation and outrage, of conversation and debate, his adoration of art without dogma, his impatience with the morally obvious, his belief in universal compassion, forgiveness and mercy, in nuance and the shadows, in neutrality and in humanity — ah, beautiful humanity — and in God too, who he thanks for letting him, in these dementing times, be old.”

—Nick Cave, “I’m struggling a bit with the fact I’m turning 40 in a week. Some people say “You’re in the brightest part of your life”, others say you are an “old man”. What is your perspective on getting old?RedHandFiles.com. June 2021.