Criticism as Other People’s Stories

Stories are explanations of the world we tell ourselves. They are filled with unnecessary detail, and by extension, falsehoods. Getting involved with stories is how we give meaning to our lives, reenforce our ego, and project that ego – our brand if you will – out in the wider world.

If the above is true, then it also means that when someone makes a criticism of you – if they say: you are X, then they are trying to hire you as an extra in their movie. In some cases, you may even be cast in a main role – as the villain, the victim, the obstacle to be overcome, colleague, etc.

But, we are not extras or actors in someone else’s movie. We are not even stars of our own production. The stories we tell ourselves are narrative fiction, a reduction of our experience to an easily understandable illusion. It’s a filter, designed to create a certain look that doesn’t reflect reality. It’s our ego taking control.

If we want to get to lived experience, we have to break free of the plots created in our head. The easiest first place to do that is to break free from the plots in other people’s heads.

When someone says something to you, the most likely thing they are doing is projecting their own story. They are telling you how you fit in to their story. You may be a personification of some trait they don’t like about themselves, or the opposite. You may be an important piece in making their fiction work, or a bit player. But, no matter what role you are assigned by someone else, you always have the choice about whether to play the part.

Some parts have useful lessons to teach us, and we are obligated to play them by our circumstances. But, even then, you have the choice in whether to believe in the part. It’s one thing to know you are an actor in a fiction. It’s something else to think the role we play is our life.

Most of us think the stories we tell ourselves or the parts we play in other people’s stories are our lives. We need to pause these productions, see them for what they are, and if necessary, play our roles. But, play it knowing it’s a role. It makes all the difference.

Predatory Precarity

“Reforming government contracting, controlling medical costs, breaking up big-tech, opening the professions to international competition, these sound technocratic, even “pro-market”. But under present levels of stratification, the consequences of these things would be a revolution, whole swathes of society accustomed to status and political enfranchisement would find themselves banished towards a “normal” they used to only read about, opiate crises and deaths of despair, towards loss of the “privilege” it has become some of their custom to magnanimously and ostentatiously “check”. Did I say they? I mean we, of course.

But of course, not doing these things means continuing to tolerate an increasingly predatory, dysfunctional, stagnant society. It means continuing deaths of despair, even as we hustle desperately to try to ensure that they are not our deaths, or our children’s. Even for its current beneficiaries, the present system is a game of musical chairs. As time goes on, with each round, yet more chairs are yanked from the game.

The only way out of this, the only escape, is to reduce the degree of stratification, the degree to which outcomes depend on our capacity to buy price-rationed positional goods. Only when the stakes are lower will be find ourselves able to tolerate, to risk, an economy that delivers increasing quantity and quality of goods and services at decreasing prices, rather than one that sustains markups upon which we, or some of us, with white knuckles must depend.

Lower the stakes.”

-Steve Randy Waldman, “Predatory precarity.” Interfluidity.com. August 20, 2019.

Interesting throughout. Central point is that the more disparate a society, the more corruption is built in. I particularly like the line: “It is extraordinarily expensive to be both comfortable and some facsimile of virtuous,” which struck me as being in the same ballpark as this post on Admiring Yourself and the connections between the Holocaust and other X-isms.

Nothing to Learn, Here

“As one of my friends from a not-rich part of East Asia says: “Students from my country come to the U.S. these days. They see dirty cities, lousy infrastructure, and the political clown show on TV, and an insular people clinging to their guns and their gods who boast about how they are the greatest people in the world without knowing anything about what is going on outside. They come back and tell me: ‘We have nothing to learn from those people! Why did you send me there?'”

—J. Bradford DeLong, “Is America in Decline?” Pairagraph. September 10, 2020.

To Make Friends

Be able to talk and shut up. Listen well, particularly for the voice that is hard to hear in yourself and in others. Remember: there is little difference between being shut out and being shut in.

Everything is Everywhere

Everything is everywhere, but the [local] environment selects.

-Lourens Baas Becking

The environment can be an anything, e.g., an individual, an activity, or a society. But selection happens everywhere which is why everything isn’t there.

Some People are Toxic Avoid Them

“You can only work for people you like…

Some people are toxic avoid them. This is a subtext [to working for people you like]. There was in the sixties a man named Fritz Perls who was a gestalt therapist. gestalt therapy derives from art history, it proposes you must understand the ‘whole’ before you can understand the details. What you have to look at is the entire culture, the entire family and community and so on. Perls proposed that in all relationships people could be either toxic or nourishing towards one another. It is not necessarily true that the same person will be toxic or nourishing in every relationship, but the combination of any two people in a relationship produces toxic or nourishing consequences. And the important thing that I can tell you is that there is a test to determine whether someone is toxic or nourishing in your relationship with them. Here is the test: You have spent some time with this person, either you have a drink or go for dinner or you go to a ball game. it doesn’t matter very much but at the end of that time you observe whether you are more energized or less energized. Whether you are tired or whether you are exhilarated. if you are more tired then you have been poisoned. if you have more energy you have been nourished. The test is almost infallible and i suggest that you use it for the rest of your life.”

-Milton Glaser, “Ten Things I’ve Learned.” Milton Glaser.com.

See also Hoodoos, Sucking Black Holes, Psychic Vampires, and The Unhappy & The Unlucky. The lesson in all of these is to be very careful about who you spend your time with.

Shut Out or Shut In

“Thinking is difficult, that’s why most people judge.”

—C.G. Jung

People like to tell the same stories, over and over again. The truth of those stories is changed, imperceptibly, in each telling. Our identities are a lacquer, painted on by the stories we tell ourselves and others.

Identity accrual and world building are our principal occupations. I’m this and that, signaling to society my tribe and allegiances. One thing that seems less common is people capable of admitting that they were wrong or made a mistake. It’s partly because doing so means we are open to change. Or, our connections with the rest of the world are open to reconfiguration. And people really don’t want that from themselves, or from others.

People want consistency. They want to be right. It’s difficult to be these things in a world that is always changing and where we make decisions with imperfect information.

Easier to misremember that we were right all the time, adding on another layer of our identity. Brittle, but bright.

The Primary Human Problem

Note: This is why I published the Zuihitsu post yesterday. Trying to pack these ideas into a coherent essay is something I’m going to have to work on before it takes on a useful shape.

At the center of human problems are two facts:

  1. Most people are good.
  2. Most people are also self-centered, lazy and stubborn.

It’s difficult to think. It’s difficult to do the right thing, when it isn’t obvious. It’s difficult to be anything, when there is nothing to strive for.

What the world lacks in meaning, it makes up for in alienation. What cannot be understood is cursed with incomprehension. The incomprehensible is invisible, nonexistent. Our thoughts are abbreviated versions of the totality of our being.

But, our thoughts both rarely change and are constantly changing. Cycling through the well-worn pathways, but the routes are static, unchanging. Societies break these chains, evolve only as a function of generational replacement. New ideas gain currency as they are embraced by new generations creating new pathways. But, the new isn’t necessarily worse than the old. It’s just that no one is worse than the people we were yesterday, or the generation before.

No one wants advice. They want corraboration. Advice is useless. The wise won’t need it, and fools won’t heed it. And, even for the wise, when under stress, everyone will regress. Easier to judge, since changing patterns of thinking is difficult, and in the wrong light anyone can look like a villian. And, in the wrong environment, anyone can be the villian.

Look at the miscalculation. Mistakes are often as revealing as the answers. They reveal the limits and heirarchies of our social environment and of our vision, of what was and what could of been. But, who’s to blame?

If you are looking for absolution, you are going to have to forgive yourself. No one can do it for you. Sometimes, it’s impossible. There are some arenas so corrupt that the only good act is to burn them to the ground. Some problems require surgery. People are gods of ruins and disfigurement.

Find nourishment where you can. Tell the truth, without shame, with heart. Focus on nourishment over poison. Live on the precipice. You can still love something and see its flaws. You cannot dichotomize things that are deeply connected, and often, the flawed part is what makes love possible. It provides the vulnerability that leads to intimacy.

We are all here for our own reasons. What’s important is that we came.

Marginalization and Being Weird

“One thing I think this illustrates is how non-transferable experiences of marginalisation are. bell hooks obviously has more experience of marginalisation than I do – she is a black woman in the US, while I am in most regards a fairly privileged white man. But I am also a queer neurodivergent person, and the experience of small towns for people like me is literally the worst.

If you’re sufficiently “weird” and live or go to school in a small town, chances are pretty good you know almost nobody like you, and it’s awful. In a large city you may still struggle to find people like you, but those people are at least there and once you’ve found a few you will find more through them. It is possible to build a community of people like you, and to build a love ethic within that community, in a way that I don’t think people like me are ever going to really find in a small town.”

-David R. MacIver, “The conditional love of a small town.” DRMacIver’s Notebook. April 27, 2020.

Recommend David’s blog in general. Personally, I find I agree with much of what he says. I’ve been “weird” to other people my whole life, but I’ve never identified as being “neurodivergent”, a term I’ve only come to know in the last few years. However, it is a useful way to understand being out of step with the world and helps bring a sense of normality to being different.

The Church of Interruption

“‘There are two conversational dogmas. They’re self-consistent, you can subscribe to either one, and if you do, you will be able to happily converse with anyone else in your church. They are the Church of Interruption –’

‘That’s mine, isn’t it? It doesn’t sound complimentary.'”

-Sam Bleckley, “The Church of Interruption.” SamBleckley.com. November 22, 2011.

Yeah, my church too.