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Thoughts On Thinking
Or, Sweeping The Steps Of "Chapel Perilous".
How often do you get asked the question, “…what do you think?”
And how often have you had a voice at the back of your head, that hears the answer you conjure, and (that voice) asks, “How much of what you just said are actually your thoughts? Not just unconsciously parroted words spoon fed to you day by day from some flapping mouth on the payroll or some other exterior source. How much of it is your own, sovereign, independently arrived upon opinions and/or feelings?”
Artwork By Alan Aldridge
It has occurred to me more and more over the last handful of years that so many of what I would normally describe as ‘my’ thoughts aren’t entirely mine, and sometimes they aren’t mine at all. How much of them are my own, you ask? I suppose this is a fair question, because there are most certainly places where I show up that are uniquely me, but the more years I spend here on earth the more I observe how so much of what I have identified as ‘me’ isn’t actually me at all. A conundrum built into our collective conceptualization of identity.
There’s the adage about relationships, in that there are never less than three (the number is debatable) people in the bedroom with you. Meaning, there is you and your lover, but behind the curtain (so to speak) you have the karma of your parents, your grandparents, your siblings, your friends. Not to mention the possibility of there literally being someone else there. (Scrub your AirBnB before de-robing, I’m just sayin…Ha!) You might also include public facing personalities and the talking heads which we listen to ad nauseam on our omnipresent screens. Each one has a speaking role in the love scene you two are making, whether you know it or not. I suppose this is a mildly shocking, albeit smirking, way of elucidating my point. Where, in our experience of being human, day to day and moment to moment, do we have true individuation or sovereignty? Does that even exist? Or are we a part of something larger than we can currently comprehend? The proverbial apple that sprouted from the tree, a tree that seeded from the ground, a ground that rattled from the rocks that coalesced from the cosmos. Etc, etc. Only in this curious botany, the apple dropped from the tree and rolled down a long and winding hill then landed in a hall of mirrors. Welcome to Earth, bitch.
Artwork by Daren Thomas Magee
The point being that where our environment ends and we as individuals begin is blurry at best. If it exists at all! I would like to believe that we have the potential for individuation but in order to accept that I also need to accept the probability that we are inextricably linked to everything that came before us, and everything that comes after us. Another way of approaching it could be to say that there is no describing me without describing my environment.
Our current modern dilemmas, or should I say the places where we appear to be collectively circling the drain, seem to be centered around identity, opinion, group affiliation, tribes(?), and an overarching politicization of fucking everything. It’s hard to avoid, to be honest. Every person everywhere I look has a righteously felt opinion about what’s wrong with the world. One not even bother to ask the original and seemingly innocuous question, “what do you think…?” anymore, because anyone and everyone you approach appears convinced that because they think, therefore they know. Which then begs the next logical question; does one need to have an opinion on everything? We’ve entered into an epoch where essentially everyone has access to seemingly limitless streams of information, and perhaps on another version of earth this would herald the approach of a golden era in humanity. But here on this earth, access (just beyond its observable advantages) has meant the rattling down of societal structures that we’d previously taken for granted, and it almost goes without saying that in the near term we are going to be in for a bumpy ride. The phrase ‘epistemic humility’ might as well be added to the most exotic epilogues of a cryptozoologist’s field notes because it’s about as rare as a yeti and only seemingly crazy people appear to have witnessed it.
“Lonely Yeti” by Jeroen Langeveld
But how many of us question the narrative spinning its wheels behind our eyes? Question our own source material. Seek out counter narratives with the intent of drawing oneself into a possibly more equitable and educated middle. I’d argue that almost no one does. And why? Probably because it’s fucking hard. Our societal infrastructure is set up so that almost nobody has time, let alone the patience and know-how, to seek out what could be described as ‘good information’. We don’t really appear to be built as such from a neurological POV. We merely seek information. Good, bad, ugly, beautiful, shocking, heartfelt or nefarious, we seem to be clumsily feeling around in the darkest of rooms, hands outstretched and grasping for anything that resembles a light-switch or a door handle. In fact, the more we dig into our best understandings of ourselves, the more it appears that we have a collective bent towards information tinged with emotionality. Therefore what shocks and disturbs all but guarantees our attentions! For a while at the very least. (See the work of Tristan Harris and his project, The Center For Humane Technology, to get a deeper dive into this area.) And from this standpoint I’ll ask another question: who benefits from this current understanding of human nature? The answer is likely complex and deeply layered, but part of the answer is most certainly not, “no one.” Someone (for lack of a better way of describing it) benefits mightily from this sub-structure, and in one’s quest to individuate and find some modicum of freedom, it is probably a good idea to identify who, so we might do our darnedest to stay as far away from them as possible and at minimum, limit how much of THAT voice gets to participate in our conversations, both public and private.
So what does one do about this? One who may be at least peripherally intrigued by the concept of self authorship, independence of thought, and perhaps a temporary quieting of the hum of hive mind? This is where I may have dug a bit further into the sandbox than the tools at my disposal can accommodate. A plastic shovel and bucket can get you started but being that the maps are increasingly inaccurate, our compass is spinning, and it’s getting progressively darker, we may need a head lamp and some trusted company as we descend into the landscapes that lay ahead. If we decide to keep digging that is. Though, I don’t think turning around is an option at this point. We’ve seen too much to go back, and who knows, maybe what we find just beyond these darkest of days will make all the trouble worth the effort.
As a brief aside, I will say that a few things I have come into practice with that have helped me greatly in this arena have been- learning how to meditate and adhering it into my daily routine, spending more time outdoors, and doing everything in my power to limit my exposure to modern media. As well as becoming as media literate/savvy as I can afford to be. Then, last but not least, reading more, and diversifying my reading. I’ve found that seeking out writers, orators and artists who don’t think identically to me helps to counter my preexisting biases. This last bit of advice is challenging but definitely worth the effort. I would be very interested in hearing ways in which you might be making sense of things in this regard and continuing your process of self authorship under such daily avalanches of “information”.
So! In a conclusion of sorts for this brief thought, I can offer one more bit of guidance that some of you might try upon entering this perplexing terrain. The next time someone asks you that ever so loaded of questions “what do you think?” and you decide to take into consideration some or any of what I’ve shared today, remember that you do always have the option of responding with something akin to the following loved infused reply-
“What do I think? (pause here for effect) I think that what I think is none of your fucking business. (Smile mischievously) But I love you and I may have more to share with you one day.” Maybe do a weird little dance as you shuffle away. (See below)
Pictured above: Sarah Hay and dance partner.
Here are a few books worth reading (in no particular order) that tap into these ideas:
Amusing Ourselves To Death (Public Discourse In The Age Of Show Business) by Neil Postman
The Wisdom Of Insecurity by Alan Watts
Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
1984 by George Orwell
On Tyranny by Timothy Snyder
Meditations by Marcus Aurelius
The Knowledge Illusion by Steven Sloman and Philip Fernbach
Who Owns The Future? by Jaron Lanier
The Shallows by Nicolas Carr
Cosmic Trigger Trilogy by Robert Anton Wilson
I am certain there are many important books I’ve unknowingly left out so please feel free to recommend any that you think might pertain to what we’re discussing herein. I’d appreciate the feedback! It’s an enjoyably complex subject and one that has multiple branches leading in and out of the crux of the matter, which I suppose at its highest rung is human consciousness, writ large.
Now that I’ve told you what I think about what we think and potentially HOW we think, I will leave you with one last pendulous thread; we live in an era of omnidirectional thought policing, and though there are indeed hills worthy of dying upon, I’d argue that many of them aren’t laudable enough to necessitate your virtuous sacrifice. That is not until you have more certainty about who’s thoughts you are about to share and who’s hill it is that you’re about to die upon. When you close your eyes and shut off the noise of the world, whose voice do you hear? To whose calling do you respond? Whose thoughts are you answering for?
I hope this letter finds you well and if I haven’t done so recently, I’d like to thank you for meeting me here.