If you haven't been under a rock, there has been a lot of fan criticism levied towards the recent Star Wars movies. While the criticism was arguably loudest during The Last Jedi, it certainly has been raised again with the recent release of Rise of Skywalker. My daughter is a Star Wars fanatic and I've taken her to see all of them, so I'm always immersed in all things Star Wars. We typically dress up when we go to the movies, adding a little fun to the whole experience. But , sadly, that's where my fun usually ends. It seems that ever since the original trilogy, the story lines and screen writing have been mostly bad. George Lucas, in my opinion, produced a lack-luster prequel trilogy. And then after the sale to Disney, the franchise has had a mostly disappointing run of movies. I've been ruminating over the state of this franchise, which has oddly mirrored the decline of similar franchises like Alien and Terminator. I've come to the conclusion that the root of the problem lies in bad ideas being ratcheted onto an existing universe, which inevitably leads to a flawed movie. The core of good science fiction writing not only relies on world building, but rich writing that weave characters into a story that readers can in some way relate to. The oddities of science fiction provide escapism for the reader, and the story writing engages with a return to our human condition. It is in this story writing that the writer must be careful to maintain a level of continuity in characters, motives and general understanding of the created universe, else lose the reader in poorly constructed ideas that fall apart on their own merit.
I had blogged recently about some discord that had erupted in a UU congregation. I normally enjoy being around these people because it tends to be the highest concentration of humanists I can find. But in this day and age of reactionary politics, no issue is considered to controversial to pick fights over. Battle lines will get drawn and people like me, who want to hear points-of-view before sharpening the bayonette, are often steamrolled in the process. There are lots of definitions for political correctness, but I like George Carlin's the best.
"Political Correctness is America's newest form of intolerance, and it's especially pernicious because it comes disguised as tolerance."
I can't do Carlin any justice here, so you should probably listen to that whole rant yourself. My point to bringing this up is that defensiveness puts up barriers to having discussions. It insulates people from the harms of having dangerous thoughts. And once a group of people subscribe to the idea that certain thoughts are harmful to others and should be avoided, then a consensus of self-regulated censorship arises. This war against ideas is then utilized by various factions to shut down the words and ideas of other factions. The once noble idea of supporting one-another turns into full-on tribalism.
Now, understand that I'm not in favor of people being bigoted jerks or using words to intentionally do harm onto others. There is a fine line between having effective public discourse and being a troll. This is about shutting down ideas because the idea is too dangerous to discuss. There is NEVER an idea that should be too dangerous to discuss. Your child won't turn into Hitler because someone expresses that they think gay marriage has problematic outcomes. Look, I support gay marriage. I don't support suppressing the speech of someone who doesn't. You can fight intolerance without being intolerant. Especially when the people in question share 99% of your worldview and attend your same freaking congregation.
When conversations are emotional and people incensed, I think seeking proper discourse gets confused with codified language and group think. Rather that seeking suppression, I really believe that people need to reflect on their own attitudes and ask some important questions:
1) Am I engaging in a logic fallacy ? I see ‘No True Scotsman’ fallacy every day, very common problem when dealing with groups who go into tribal group-think. Get familiar with fallacies and learn how to spot them.
2) Why am I so passionate about this? The idea here is to check your ego. If you ever had a passionately defended something or someone who you never met or otherwise have no connection to, you might be the type of person who ego-bonds to ideas. When your ego is fighting, chances are you aren't having open and honest conversations.
3)Am I listening? You are probably hearing words and searching for triggers, but are you listening? And by listening, I mean listening with a constructive mind that has the capability of sorting and categorizing information - and possible asking for clarification before coming to conclusions.
4) Do I accept diversity and inclusion? That's not just talking about gender identity, race, culture and religious background. Its talking about diversity of ideas. That means giving people I may not agree with a chance to speak. You don't have to agree with them. But you don't have to cut them out of conversations, unless of course they are trying to do that to you.
5) Can I practice forgiveness? Forgiveness isn't just for that time your nephew broke your favorite video game console ( I'm still taking deep breaths, Justin). It also means micro-forgiveness. Can you forgive a person for acting like a jerk? For being insensitive? For saying something triggering? And if you can't, you should probably get to the bottom of "why" before trying to having some deep discourse with others. No one - not one single person, is beyond making mistakes. Practicing forgiveness allows you to be a better listener, a empathetic speaker , and a reasoned thinker.
A few days ago I was journaling about the misplaced notions behind financial independence. I have argued that financial freedom has little to do with wealth and is more akin to living in the moment and appreciating what you have, similar to the philosophies of Buddhism and Stoicism. That "long haul" of living life as-it-is keeps desire in-check. And if you think about desire, it's really just a thought about a reality that doesn't exist. Sure ,we can make desire's happen through work. But if you can find contentment in the current state, then you have to ask of the exercise of desiring things is worth the effort. Cars, houses, shiny things, they all lose their luster after the novelty wears off. Walking on a cool morning and watching the sun rise can create the same amount of awe and happiness, and it won't cost you a cent. That is the the heart of the FI movement, whatever accumulation of wealth happens as a result is just empowerment over your own path.
In the early days of the internet, there were newsgroups. And behold, they were good! The techy could converse across the digital landscape of the very tiny interwebs. Just the act of sharing thoughts through a compute was exciting. And then came the forum. Originally a concept nested in bulletin board systems, their platform grew life and became a denizen of hypertext. The various forums that sprung up gave specific enclaves voice and community. Quickly, sports enthusiasts, hackers, churches, political ideologues and product fans all had online areas. It was at this point, before the onset of social media, that I could see the problems festering. In these early days, I was a practicing my freethought, exploring ideas and exploring my own limitations of knowledge. I was also getting acquainted with logic fallacies so that I could decipher the bullshit weaved by other folks who lurked on forums. While I prided myself on being a border-lined nihilist, it was near impossible to not "give" to the suggestion of new information. If you were one a sports page, you might buy into other peoples arguments that your team isn't so great. If you are a republican, perhaps your "moderate" sensibilities begin eroding to constant chastising by more vocal hardliners. This is what could be called the hivemind effect. The hivemind is what happens a large number of people share their knowledge with one another and produce a conformity. Your thoughts might be your own, but they have also become molded to the collective. If you want to read some of the science behind this concept, Medium has a great article on the subject.
In online groups, we start off as hardened individuals with our own unique thoughts and opinions. But over time, our cognition can start offloading to the group think. Hence, older forums with long standing members will be more alike then newbies. I've caught myself saying and thinking things that I never would have done prior to joining online communities. Hence, I've made the realization that my own desires of being within a "community" has a danger. Long exposure might conform my thoughts in ways that I wouldn't have otherwise wanted. When social media hit the scene, I originally thought it a novel way to share photos with family. But soon I was getting into online fights and backing positions that, in retrospect, were very foolish things to defend. And I way this knowing that I'm strong willed and not easily swayed when I've done my homework.
A few years ago I read a book by Cal Newport called Deep Work and it finally spelled out all my issues with social media. Not only was it time consuming, the very system was designed to keep me consuming. I was no longer a knowledge participant, I was a willing slave to it. Prior to reading the book, I had stripped out all my social media use and found it initially disturbing, like a great sense of loss had occurred. I think that is when I was aware that this absorption into the online nexus was damaging. Within a few short days, I found my time freed up and a little peace and come back into my life. But I was missed being "part" of something bigger. With time, that longing passed and I began hearing my inner monologue again. The thoughts were once again , all mine.
I no longer seek community on line. I find community in real life communities. I talk to people with bad breath and course language, I hear things that I disagree with and can experience real time emotions without using emojis. I speak to my family more often. I am more involved in real-life community groups. I may not have the novelty experience of sitting in my underwear on my couch, but knowing that I can keep my thoughts independent of the hivemeind is well worth the "hardship".
If you have a foot in secular Buddhism, this is not a new topic. Yet, I have this discussion with people on a fairly regular basis. We all experience a sense of hope in various ways, and it is often framed with the notion that something about your current state is not as you desire it, and that you imagine a future scenario where the current state changes to a desired state and form an emotional attachment to that desired state. If I don't have chocolate ice cream right now, I might hope for chocolate ice cream to manifest itself in my freezer at a later date. Hope is pinning your emotions an idea that isn't currently real. That's not to say that ideas are bad or that trying to envision better realities is somehow wrong.
Buddhism teaches that suffering arises when we want things to be other than they are. When we want something to change or something to be different about ourselves, we hope that things could be another way. So, having no hope is a affirmation of acceptance. You truly accept the way things are in the here and the now. And if you have ever been around people in psychotherapy, they will likely tell you that this notion of acceptance sounds oddly similar to Acceptance and Commitment Therapy.
So, when I am at community events and people talk of hope , I can't help but feel that they are setting themselves up. The odd thing about dreaming up future scenarios and putting "hope" in their fruition is that the consequences of failure manifest immediately in the current space. Hope generates fear, fear that the desired state may not pass while absorbing bandwidth in our frontal lobes. If you hope for something, you are thinking about something that isn't happening right now. Hence, hope robs us of the present moment experiences and can even inject emotional states that aren't related to anything happening in the here and now.