Philosophy Tuesday

Sometimes we have to deal with what’s in front of us… the elephant in the room, and all that.  And so, to that end…

I assert there’s a growing weirdness developing towards the notion and idea of “freedom.”

As in, an incredibly reductive view that leans heavily towards the 5-year-old mentality of freedom: “You can’t tell me what to do!”  (stomps foot)  “You’re not the boss of me!”

Which, in actuality, is not freedom.  Amusingly, quite the opposite.  For if we automatically rail against a suggestion, a request, a recommendation, an order, a rule, or a perceived limit – whether imposed by someone specific or in general – in a “I will never do what my they tell me,” kind of way, then we’ve eliminated much of our actual freedom because we are now hemmed in to only do things that are the opposite of what they tell us – or even what we think they would tell us.  We’ve killed choice.  We’ve killed our agency.  And we’ve killed our ability to take on that which betters ourselves and our community.

We do nothing but become impetuous (and, often, petulant as well).

I could take this to level of caricature, in a “Hey, don’t stab yourself in the eye with a pencil.” / “Don’t tell me how to live my life” -stab- kind of way.  But I needn’t (though I guess I just did).  Instead, I only want to push ourselves to recognize what it is we are truly resisting, and what impact that resistance is having on us and on the many communities we profess to be a part of.

That is it.  An invitation to put on our adult pants, look at ourselves, find perspective, be present, and aim towards true freedom:  the freedom to be, to adapt, to consider, to choose, to build things forward, and to enjoy peace of mind, no matter the circumstances.

Philosophy Tuesday

While our group classes and gatherings have been completely kaiboshed during these unusual times, I’ve continued to Kung Fu it up in my backyard (including weapons and all).  It has been a pleasantly productive time, with growth and new avenues opening to explore and with a wonderful handful of delicious insights.

But there’s an interesting thing about insights:

You never know when they will show up.

You can’t plan for them.  You can’t predict them.  And you can’t force them.  All you can do is go out, practice, practice, and practice some more.

And, of course, that means to practice with intent.  Be the force that is pulling for it.  Create the conditions for it to show up.  Lay the foundation and do the digging and look inside and be mindful and keep looking for what’s missing, what’s next, make the adjustment… and then put it into practice, practice, and practice some more.

Until, without any preamble, there it is.  Something new arises!  An insight, an epiphany, a shift, a transformation.  It might be accompanied with an “Ohhhh,” or a “That’s interesting, what’s that?” or maybe it’s so grand the skies part and the angels sing.  Whether it’s low key or a glorious emergence, it’s nevertheless unmistakable.

And it’s yours forever, to move forward into the world with that new understanding, new vision, and new ability, and to enjoy all that comes and flows freely from it.  All the while, being ready to lay the groundwork and to continue practicing, practicing, and practicing some more towards the next one.

This is the veracity of Kung Fu, as it is the veracity of any art or skill or ability, including the realms of philosophical transformation and even that of societal shifts.

It is also a counter to resignation and capitulation, taking solace in that uncertainty.  It rarely looks like somethings progressing until it moves.  And then it does.  And it’s glorious and totally worth it for the great days ahead.

Philosophy Tuesday

As I’ve noted here before, there is great clarity that comes from comparing who we proclaim ourselves to be (or to be about), and looking at what our actions, or the results thereof, say about what’s ACTUALLY going on.  And what’s going on right now is really showing us a very stark view of how authorities view and treat people, to the tune of 422+ incidents of overreach, brutality, and aggression* that have hurt, injured, and even killed people they supposedly swore an oath to protect.

And with that comes a hard look at how we let things get to this point.  And what to do about it.  Be ready, for the tactics and fallacies are going to get deployed real fast, in thick clouds (and yes, that imagery is not chosen by accident), trying to excuse these actions.

Especially when it may be coming from within.  So let’s look at one of these fallacies in detail, because by doing so we can both recognize it when being deployed against us, and moreover inoculate ourselves from ourselves, from our own internal monologues that may also attempt to dismiss, or minimize, some of all that is going on.  And it is the No True Scotsman fallacy:

“No true Scotsman, or appeal to purity, is an informal fallacy in which one attempts to protect a universal generalization from counterexamples by changing the definition in an ad hoc fashion to exclude the counterexample. Rather than denying the counterexample or rejecting the original claim, this fallacy modifies the subject of the assertion to exclude the specific case or others like it by rhetoric, without reference to any specific objective rule – “no true Scotsman would do such a thing”; i.e., those who perform that action are not part of our group and thus criticism of that action is not criticism of the group.” [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/No_true_Scotsman] **

This is, of course, nicely related to the “few bad apples” trope that is so readily trotted out.  (which, by the way, notice A) always only seems to get applied to one side of someone’s preferred group, ie, “our side has only a few bad apples, while the other side I am more than willing to tar with a broad brush and apply a single action/trait to degrade a whole group, and B) ignores that the complete saying is “one bad apple spoils the barrel.”)  But my own variant of it comes in this form:

“No climber/paintballer would ever steal my wallet.”

This comes from my days of playing paintball and, later, going to climbing gyms.  There were times where there were no lockers available, or place to stash something, or should I lock my car, or any of those kind of moments… and my mind would head straight into that fallacy:  “Well, I’m a good person, and I am a paintballer, so therefore paintballers are good, and besides, I’ve met a bunch of them, and they seem all like fun friendly people, so clearly I’ve got nothing to worry about…”  The same went for climbers.  “We’re all cool dudes and dudettes, all is safe.”

Fortunately for me, my wallet, or anything else, was never stolen.  But I’ve known others who have had things “walk away” in those kinds of situations, and I’ve been overcharged or otherwise tricked by paintballers and climbers alike.

This is a great example of what’s known as “positive bias” – instances of our hidden prejudices that favour those we have an affinity for, or an identity towards.  This quick piece on NPR is a great primer.

With these biases we can so easily deceive ourselves.  Especially as often we will do anything to avoid something uncomfortable.  Or to avoid a new truth that challenges us and our reality and our identities.  And this fallacy is an easy one to reach for.

But eating bitter is where true growth can happen.

 

* Keep scrolling in that thread — it’s a long list to get to 422+.  There’s also a spreadsheet here:  https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1YmZeSxpz52qT-10tkCjWOwOGkQqle7Wd1P7ZM1wMW0E/edit#gid=0  All noted and saved for posterity, so that it cannot be forgotten or denied.

** Also, if you aren’t familiar with all of the logical fallacies, they are mightily powerful to learn about.  Here’s one site that does it in a lighthearted fashion:  https://yourlogicalfallacyis.com/  and the more extensive wiki article:  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_fallacies

Philosophy Tuesday

Hubris.  A great and interesting human capacity we all share (and that I’ve spoken about before here) that is responsible for 94% of all downfalls.*

And one of the ‘best’ hubristic follies we pursue is the belief that “I’m not human.”  Not literally – at least, usually not literally – but more along this flavour: “Other people might be tricked, or swindled, or taken in, but I can’t be.  Other people might be susceptible to advertising, or social media, or disinformation campaigns, or the addictive ways companies manipulate the base of our brain stem, but not me.  I’m too smart/careful/clever/advanced/enlightened for that. I’m better than them.”**

Of course, that is not only not true, but that very arrogant certainly makes us all the more susceptible to all of that… because when we’re certain it can’t/won’t be happening to us we are totally not present and miss all the signs that it is indeed happening, or, even better, that would warn us away before it starts.

It’s like one of my former roomates, who prided themselves on being a pretty good manipulator.  Putting aside the oddity of being proud about that kind of thing, the ‘joke’ was that instead, they themselves were often manipulated.  And they didn’t realize it.  To someone more skilled at manipulation (again, not something to be proud of) they were an easy target, and someone aware of their manipulative attempts could diffuse it to no advantage, again without them realizing it.  Like my theory of the Tai Chi Push Hands Skill Differential Exponential Experience Factor, all that bluster of certainty only got them into way more trouble than they could feel.  They found themselves on the floor without even realizing they were there, let alone how they got there.

We are bombarded with missives and messages every day, both genuine and manipulative.  And for the latter, both directly with unscrupulous intent and indirectly through algorithmic chicanery that is designed only to hook our limbic brain and keep our attention hooked (for the purposes of making money).  And through this time of shelter in place we’re even more exposed.  To walk blindly forward like we are an unassailable fortress is just inviting all sorts of opportunities to render ourselves fools (and to maybe let the whole world know it).  Just like “I am human, therefore I have biases”, “I am human, therefore I am capable of being tricked, hoodwinked, and hijacked to ill intent.”

By keeping ourselves mindful and cautious, we can avoid being hooked, avoid spreading it far and wide, avoid harming ourselves and our wellbeing (financial, emotional, relatedness, etc), and avoid destroying the very structures, institutions, communities, and families we hold dear.

 

* Note, not a real statistic, but that doesn’t necessarily make the notion entirely untrue…

** Where ‘them’ in this sense is used pejoratively.

Philosophy Tuesday

It is often good to be reminded that the little voice inside your head is not you.

(For some of you, it’s the voice that just said, “What little voice?  I don’t have voices in my head…” Yeah.  That’s the one.  That’s the little voice.  And it is not you.)

It’s just the little voice in your head

Thoughting away as a direct loudspeaker from your always-agitated calculating self.

But if you let it be, and let things be still and quiet down, the little voice grows calm.

And into that peaceful oasis can your central, authentic voice, begin to speak, in all its resplendent and radiant tones.

Philosophy Tuesday

One thing I really enjoy is asking people what they are passionate about.

It’s not a common question, and sometimes it can take a little bit of prodding before they are able to answer.  At other times though, people will launch into exuberant sharing even without being asked, talking for minutes upon minutes before feeling apologetic for having, they fear, rambled on.

But no apology is necessary.  It is a delight to hear.

“Whole-hearted listening is the greatest spiritual gift you can give to the other person.”

“…if we would only listen with the same passion that we feel about wanting to be heard.”

— Harriet Lerner

There is a lot of talk “out there” about speaking strong and letting the world hear you and hear about you.  But there’s always the other side of the equation that isn’t mentioned or considered as often and yet we should and need to think about in at least in equal amounts.  Because for every speaker there has to be at least one listener.  More often it’s a whole group, which means that to really build passion we ought to spend more time listening than speaking.

It isn’t just a matter of speaking with passion – we need to listen with passion.

And it is that space that invites unexpected outpourings of enthusiasm and joy, no prodding needed.

It is a space we can create by listening for the gold and watching as vitality, possibility, and connectedness all blossom.

Philosophy Tuesday

At the yell of “Go!” we pulled the Trojan Horse beyond the gates of Troy.

Ok, natch, it wasn’t the actual Trojan horse, nor were we anywhere near Troy.  We were standing on dusty ground at Burning Man, but there was a horse, and a big one at that.  Five stories tall, made of wood and nails and paint and weighing in at some 40,000 lbs.  It was something.  And we were about to pull it.  Hundreds of us, spread out over six ropes affixed to its base, with me an orange robed figure melding within the crowd.

In my mind, I knew how this was going to go:  we would begin pulling, the horse might rock a bit, then it would begin moving, slowly at first, gradually picking up steam as we struggled and pulled with all our might against its weight and the wheels sinking into the sandy playa.  I readied myself.  The signal was given.  I gripped the rope and… Just walked.  Like nothing was there.  I looked back – had something gone wrong?  Nope.  The horse was following us, as easily as a toy being pulled on a string.  What?

Turns out when you have hundreds of people, the load divides out to be individually a pretty small number.  As soon as we pulled the horse leapt forward with no hesitation and no ramp up in speed.  We were generating thousands upon thousands of pounds of force.  Collectively, we were mighty.

Ain’t that the truth?  In that moment it certainly became viscerally clear for me in a way that it hadn’t been before.  Our greatest strength as a species is our capacity for collaboration.  When we (whether willingly or unwittingly) align our actions, we produce immense results.

Again, ain’t that the truth?  We can see it all around us.  In so many ways.  And inside of that, the phrase and the thought of “what I do doesn’t matter or won’t make a difference” immediately loses its air of veracity.  Because it’s almost never just a single “I” that’s acting there.  It is countless “I”s acting in inadvertent unison, producing an equally inadvertently outsized result.  And this goes for many things, be it voting, or stewardship, or ‘norms’, or how we respond to challenges and adversities, and on and on all the way down to include how we treat each other when we go to the store.

“It’s just me” is often an illusion.  It’s a thousand me’s, a thousand us’, a collective of “I”s that together, through action or inaction can wreck and cause harm, but with a little intention and engagement can also move mountains.

(And giant horses too.)

photo source by Scott London

Philosophy Tuesday

Another reason to practice being present is that if you’re not, you’re going to miss shit.  Shit that you do.  Moreover, shit you say you don’t do.  That you don’t want to do.  That you’re immune to doing.  That doesn’t represent who you are.  And yet, there you are, doing just that or those things.

And wow then are you ever wide open to some rather hypocritical shit.*

If you say you are committed to learning and mindfulness and philosophy and being a great human being, and yet you don’t practice it, yet you do not want to hear about it when you’re not, yet you are not even willing to be present to when you are not being present, then you are, quite simply, lying.

 

* And I, for the record, am completely fascinated by our human capacity for hypocrisy.  And I’m not being facetious here… I am genuinely fascinated that we can oh so easily flop around and speak out of both sides without even noticing it.  And that’s the kicker; we can so easily, readily, unintentionally, and automatically do it and that we are pretty much always completely oblivious to the fact that we have even done it.

We can and will and do proclaim and defend and argue and run up the ramparts about something on the one hand and then – sometimes even almost immediately – do the same for something that is completely the opposite.  And as above, this is even for things we say and vehemently assert that we hold fundamental to our core – beliefs, morals, theories, history, stories, ‘truths’, actions – they are all immensely and readably fungible at a moment’s notice.

Last week’s post is a prime way this can happen, but so too is this very much tied into our identities as well as various other things.  They all engage our rationalizing engines such that what we – unless we develop our mindfulness and bring being present to bear – say and do shit that in the moment feels ancient and pure and rock solid yet is anything but, born of the moment and as nebulous as vapour.  And in those moments, we undermine our authenticity, our integrity, our morality, our ideals, and our humanity.

As I said, I am fascinated by this capacity of ours… and inspired for when we, through mindfulness and being present and self-cultivation, interrupt it and instead create who we want to be, and live by our authentic, central, selves.