Is nihilism the only escape from the death grip of culture?

If you read modern philosophy, it sometimes seems that culture is an iron cage and nothing can fix it or help us escape.

I do agree that cultures basically all suck after a certain point.

We need them to learn language, ideas, and many kinds of training. But beyond that they typically only stifle individual development while forcing irrational conformity to norms that are self-policed by the members of the culture itself. That’s one of the worst things about it.

But should that make us nihilists?

I don’t think so because culture only looks depressing when viewed on its own terms, as a big thing (many people) that holds together many smaller things (individual people).

Individuals can escape through FIML practice or something very similar. And this is so because FIML allows individuals to communicate with much greater accuracy than that allowed by culture itself.

That is all it takes for two people to get out or get beyond the nihilistic death grip of culture. You really have to do something to make FIML work, but it is not that hard and it is much better than the usual alternatives.

The sexualization of women in China

In the West, the term sexualization is normally used in the negative. It is normally considered a bad thing to sexualize women, children, and I suppose men or animals when that happens.

Westerners see sexualization as a form of “objectifying” or “pornifying” people, reducing whole persons with complex psychologies to little more than objects of sexual pleasure.

I have no argument against the term when used that way in the right context.

Sexualization in China, however, (as an idea not the term) has a very different context than in the West, particularly the sexualization of women.

In the West, women benefited from various long traditions that worshiped them, Romanticized them, restricted men to one wife (not the case in China), prevented cousin-marriage, and sexualized them in the sense that they were and are considered beautiful and desirable by most men.

This is not the case in China. In traditional China, women were treated more as chattel, as son-makers, as workers, slaves, servants, or prostitutes. Few were deeply appreciated and openly admired for their physical beauty. There was no concept of Romantic love or deep pair-bonding between a man and a woman as in the West.

So if you come across a story about a Chinese pageant that sees models compete for best cleavage as I did today, it is best to understand it in a different context than you would in the West, for these pageants have a different purpose than they do in the West, at least in part.

Of course, some aspects of the Chinese pageant may be even raunchier than in the West, but at least one aspect has the purpose of overcoming Chinese cultural features that have for centuries deeply under-appreciated women by what are now modern standards.

There has been an effort for some time in China to raise the level of appreciation Chinese men have for women by portraying women as beautiful and desirable through media exposure and beauty pageants. Less than thirty-five years ago all women in China wore the same Mao clothes and before that dress was mostly traditional staid clothing that covered and de-emphasized female physical beauty. Confucius was not a sensualist.

The sexualization of women—even through cleavage contests—is serving to raise the standards of the whole society for when women are desired they will be valued and not be so much abused.

The above comments can be disputed in many ways, but the gist is correct. My information on the propaganda of creating a “modern” sense of the beauty of women comes from discussions in China many years ago with people who I believe knew what they were talking about. These efforts began in the 1980s and 90s with the new policies that opened China to the world.

I am sure the pageants mostly run on their own steam now, but the need is still there. To this day many women in China and Southeast Asia are kidnapped to feed the amazingly large industry of bride-selling in China. Buying a kidnapped “bride” and chaining her to a bed so she can produce a son, obviously, is not based on appreciating her beauty. That whole villages support the practice shows that it is deeply entrenched in the culture.

To me it seems a bit odd that the beauty of Chinese women is promoted by using Western lingerie and other styles, but it is easiest to import something and that is the state of a lot of world culture today.

The US gov’t on cannabis

A new page at a dot gov address has actually posted positive information about cannabis, including its anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory effects as well as pain relief, improved mood, improved sleep, and improved sense of well-being.

The page can be found here: Questions and Answers About Cannabis.

I wonder if Buddhists who broadly interpret the fifth precept to be about “intoxicants” or even sensory indulgence and not booze (as it is stated in the tradition) will reconsider their positions.

I am not advocating the use of illegal drugs and do understand the desire to make Buddhism look “nice” for lawmakers who have no understanding of human liberty or the true effects of cannabis, but times are changing.

I am good with Buddhists saying whatever they believe about cannabis, but am not good with them claiming it is proscribed in the fifth precept. More on that subject here: Are We Misunderstanding The Fifth Precept?

Please remember that the five precepts are for lay followers, not monastics who may live by different rules depending on their ordination vows.

As society becomes more rational about cannabis, we can probably assume that it will become more rational about psychedelics as well, as they similarly almost certainly do more good than harm.

Personal freedom, liberty, civil rights, personal autonomy, or bodily integrity—no matter what you call it, each person’s right to have maximum freedom and control of their own body is fundamental to the American value system.

A very simple example of what FIML does

This is a simple, concrete example that is best understood as a material analogy for what happens in a FIML discussion or query.

I wanted some fresh local yogurt and we also needed some cheese. The place that sells the yogurt I like has only a few kinds of very expensive cheese.

My partner and I discussed the merits of going to the yogurt store and paying extra for cheese versus driving to a different store that has a better cheese selection but does not have the fresh yogurt.

Since the yogurt store was on the way to the cheese store, we stopped in but found that they were out of yogurt and also had no cheese.

Oh well. We went to the cheese store and got the cheese and a couple of other items we needed.

In the car we noticed that our having stopped to look for the yogurt in the yogurt store made it possible for us to dismiss that option completely from out minds. Had we not stopped, we might have wondered if we had missed a chance to get the fresh yogurt and probably would have wondered about it.

Our ability to dismiss the yogurt option and not have it be a small shadow in our minds was gained only because we had actually stopped at the yogurt store. If we had not stopped and gone only to the cheese store, we would not have known that the yogurt store didn’t even have any yogurt.

Like I said this is a very simple example.

Now, consider that instead of yogurt or cheese we are working with emotions and human perceptions. A FIML query works in a way that is analogous to stopping at the yogurt store.

Yes, it cost us some energy to stop at the store, but it saved us the energy of thinking that the yogurt was a possibility.

If instead of yogurt, I am wondering if my partner disapproves of something I said, I can ask her (stopping at the yogurt store) or refrain from asking her (not stopping).

If I ask her, it costs us both some energy, but saves me some worry and possible defensive behavior which will likely snowball and cost us even more energy.

Please put in your own emotions or concerns into this example. Isn’t it better to ask about them than not ask?

When we have many small things in our minds that we never ask anyone (including our partner), we begin living in a fantasy world or a world that is simplified to conform to simple standards made up by other people.

FIML clears up problems by catching them when they start. The FIML technique is designed to facilitate quick interventions so snowballing never gets started.

It’s not hard to do FIML if you understand what its purpose is. The hard part about doing FIML is it goes against a great deal of normal human training. Rather than ask, most of us will skip going to the yogurt store.

When we do that hundreds of times with someone, small divisions get larger and larger. When they get really big it is very hard to analyze them and we become their victims.

Cooperative narcissism and meta-communication

I think we can describe virtually all group cohesion as “cooperative narcissism.”

Groups are pretty much all self-aggrandizing and almost all of them show callous disregard for other groups, unless they are connected in a narcissistic super-group.

Sports teams are a very basic example of narcissistic groups; players and fans revel in their selfishness and contempt for competing groups. That we generally consider those emotions to be playful and healthy demonstrates my point.

Another example might be a parent who dedicates excessive time and energy to a group outside of the family. To the extent that that parent’s participation in that group is excessive it is narcissistic. Excessive in this context would entail some degree of self-aggrandizement and callous disregard for the family. Some degree in this context is open to question but often can be decided.

Once again in this context, the family itself might be considered a narcissistic group if it demands an excessive degree of group allegiance from the parent. What excessive means here can often be reasonably decided.

The reason I raise the above topic is I think that most groups most of the time have so much difficulty with honest meta-communication they simply cannot allow it.

Groups, of course, excel at the meta-communication we call conformity. Honest meta-communication that does not support conformity, though, usually causes discord. Generally it is perceived as being disruptive, aggressive, rude, “other.” We like those who are like us and dislike those who are not.

Honest meta-communication is not only dangerous for group cohesion but also for interpersonal bonding. This is so because virtually all interpersonal bonding is a type of group bonding. We like the same things, believe the same things, so we can bond; we are friends because we already are members of the same group(s).

When people are very close and have formed their own group that is stronger than any other group they feel they belong to, meta-communication is much less likely to produce discord.

For example, my partner can say she doesn’t like my shirt or the way I cut my hair without bothering me at all. In fact, I am grateful if she tells me that because I trust her and can easily fix the problem. If she criticizes me for something I can’t fix, that’s another matter (and another subject for another day).

If a new friend or colleague criticizes my shirt or hair, I probably will not take it in the same spirit as I did when the comment came from my partner. Rather than feel grateful (which I still might do), I am more likely (than with my partner) to hear my colleague’s comment as aggressive, rude, or disruptive. Rather than strengthen our bond, it can damage it.

This is a basic reason why so many groups and so much human communication is so dissatisfying, so dukkha. As such, we simply cannot say interesting meta things to most people without risking strife.

Some other examples of dangerous meta-communication that should be neutral but are not for people with strong beliefs or group allegiances are:

  • doubting the veracity of religion or science
  • saying anything bad or good about vaccines
  • saying anything bad or good about political parties, political philosophies, or politicians
  • saying anything bad or good about ethnicity or ethnic history, regions or regional histories or politics, symbols, flags, etc.

Lists like this could go on for miles. And that is because most people normally organize their minds along lines like that. When you engage in meta-communication about any subject that organizes someone’s mind, they will have trouble with it. Propaganda even uses that basic reaction as part of its basic formula.

Cooperative narcissism very often exists in intimate relations between two people. This happens because the dominant means (conformity, agreement, general semiotics) people use to communicate within groups are brought into the intimate relationship as a “natural” part of it.

The problem with that is it is much too confining for individual minds. This point is probably obvious to many readers. But I wonder if those same readers have a means to overcome it. How many intimate partners can do clear meta-communication with each other extensively without causing discord?

I bet it is not so many. The reason there are often problems in this area is partners restrict themselves to doing meta-communication on meso and macro subjects only.

“I think you are this kind of person.” “I believe your personality is thus and so.” “I think you are like this because you have that background.” Etc.

These sorts of meta-conversations can be fun and informative, but they also tend to go in circles while generating massive misunderstandings. At worst, we come to believe them—to reify “main points”—and bind each other to forms and stereotypes that are not deeply real.

The way out of this problem is to escape through micro communication. As long as two people have a prior agreement (as in FIML practice) to honestly do micro corrections on as much of their communication as possible, they will overcome the problems of cooperative narcissism and the damage it does to human communication at all levels.

Repost: Micro, meso, and macro levels of human understanding

This post is concerned with the micro, meso, and macro levels of existential semiotics and communicative thought, and how those levels affect human understanding.

  • Micro levels are very small units of thought or communication. These can be words, phrases, gestures, etc. and the “psychological morphemes” that accompany them. A psychological morpheme is the smallest unit of an emotional or psychological response.
  • Meso levels lie between macro and micro levels. Longer discourse, a sense that people have personalities or egos, and the basic ideas of any culture appear at this level.
  • Macro levels are the larger abstract levels that sort of stand above the other two levels. Macro levels might include religious or scientific beliefs, political ideologies, long-term personal goals or strategies.

Most people most of the time socialize on the meso level, often with support from shared macro level beliefs or aims. For most people, the broad outlines of most emotions are defined and conditioned at the meso level. This is the level where the nuts and bolts of convention are found. This is the level that tosses the beach balls of conversation back and forth across the dinner table and that defines those balls. The meso level defines our subculture and how well or badly we conform to it. The meso level is necessary for much of social life and sort of fun, though it is by definition not very detailed or profound. It is something most people can agree on and work with fairly easily for an hour or two at a time.

Many people define themselves mainly on the meso level and judge others by their understanding of this level. Many subcultures become stifling or cloying because meso definitions are crude and tend to leave out the rich subjectivity of individuals. Macro definitions are not all that different from meso ones except that they tend to define group feelings more than meso definitions. Groups band together based on macro level assumptions about ideologies, science, religion, art, style, location, ethnicity, etc.

Since most people are unable to fully access micro levels of communication the rich subjectivity of the individual mind is rarely, if ever, communicated at all and almost never communicated well.

In other fields, micro levels are all important. For example, the invention of the microscope completely changed the way humans see and understand their world. All that was added by the microscope was greater resolution and detail in the visual sphere. From that arose germ theory, material sciences, modern biology, modern medicine, and much more.

Micro levels of communication are basic to how we understand ourselves and others. Poor micro communication skills consign us to communication that occurs only at meso or macro levels. This is a problem because meso and macro levels do not have sufficient detail and also because meso and macro levels become the only tools we have to decide what is going on. When we are forced to account for micro details with the crude tools of meso thought, we will make many mistakes. Eventually we become like the long-term cigarette-smoker whose (micro) alveoli have collapsed, destroying full use of the lungs.

Without the details of the microscope, people for millennia happily drank germ infested water. Without a way to resolve micro levels of communication, people today, as in the past, happily ingest multitudes of micro error—errors that make them ill.

Micro communication errors make us sick because we make many serious mistakes on this level and also because our minds are fully capable of comprehending the sort of detail we can find at the micro level. We speak and listen on many interpersonal levels like crude beasts when we are capable of very delicate and refined understanding.

FIML or a technique similar to it provides a method for grasping micro details. Doing FIML for a long time is like spending a long time using a microscope or telescope. You will start to see everything differently. Detailed micro analysis of interpersonal communication changes our understanding of micro communication and also both the meso and macro levels of existential semiotics and communicative thought. Microscopes allowed us to see germs in water and also to understand that some of those germs can kill us.

More on TV

Cultivation theory:

In its most basic form, cultivation theory suggests that exposure to television, over time, subtly “cultivates” viewers’ perceptions of reality. Gerbner and Gross say: “television is a medium of the socialization of most people into standardized roles and behaviors. Its function is in a word, enculturation”

Institutional process analysis:

This investigates how the flow of media messages is produced and managed, how decisions are made, and how media organizations function. Ultimately, it asked: What are the processes, pressures, and constraints that influence and underline the production of mass-media content?

A good example of institutional process analysis:

According to the Jewish Journal, Kohan’s “refusal to limit herself in her show’s creative content has made moral ambiguity a Weeds trademark. No topic is too grim, no character too depraved.” In giving her the scope to explore these depraved characters, and to mine them for humor and ask questions, Kohan claimed that Weeds allowed her to get in touch with her Jewish identity, noting that, “For me, the essence of my Judaism is to ask questions — ask why, ask more. And in a way, the show allows me to follow that path of Judaism.” (Source)

Obviously, the people who produce TV shows have a significant influence over the effects of those shows on audiences. TV is worth thinking about because, as cultivation theory states, it is a dominant factor in the process of enculturation for all who watch it, and especially for those who watch it without analyzing its effects.


Today’s public negotiation over the “meaning” of the Confederate flag is a good example of how the ambiguous commons works in public life.

Obama weighing in with his single definition of the flag (it’s “racist”) illustrates how power influences how definitions are made on the ambiguous commons.

TV, with the power of station owners to control the message, works on the ambiguous commons sort of in the same way as Obama in the above example. Of course, TV as a medium is more complex and carries many more messages, but the comparison is still valid because TV promotes some messages while ignoring or downplaying others.

Here are some good photos on the power of TV: Idiot Box. Notice the kids’ eyes, which indicate passive trance states that are accepting information without questioning it.

In some ways one can say that TV is a bad medium because there is far more airtime than there are quality shows to fill it. The other reason one can call it bad—even though the medium itself cannot have any intentions—is it can easily be controlled by powerful people and groups that do have intentions.

The public ambiguous commons is greatly controlled by presidents and other talking heads on TV. If you watch Jon Stewart, chances are you agree with almost everything he says even when the subject is a new one that you have given no thought to.

If the general idea of a public ambiguous commons makes sense, and if it is understood how people (and presidents) negotiate “meaning” on the ambiguous commons, then I hope it will also be clear that we humans as individuals and in small groups are negotiating shared meanings all the time.

Negotiating meaning (by arguing, cajoling, ignoring, using emotional displays or reason, etc.) is one of the main things we humans do when we communicate. It is for this reason that very stable social groups can be so boring. No one wants to rock the boat by saying anything that makes anything seem more ambiguous or confusing.

It is also for this reason that narcissists and abusers insist on their interpretations, their meanings, over anyone else’s. Pretty much wherever you find an individual or group that will brook no dissent and/or that gets angry when there is dissent or even the simple appearance of a different idea, you can be all but certain you are dealing with a narcissistic bully trying to maintain (or gain) control of the ambiguous commons.

Creation of meaning and human behavior

Humans create meaning because they have to.

Virtually all humans need meaning and a sense that their minds are organized or unified by meaning. The macro-meanings of religion, science, and politics are obvious examples of the sorts of “organized” or “unified” meaning people want and need.

Gangs are another type of organized meaning that unify the minds of their members.

An exceptionally cruel example of the importance of meaning can be seen in the recent story of a young man who was killed for wearing red shoes—gang colors—in the wrong neighborhood (Teen shot after refusing to give up shoes).

This story illustrates how small a bit of meaning can be and yet still elicit violent reactions.

Most people don’t do stuff like that but most people can be and often are as petty if not as violent. In so-called “polite” society a poorly expressed opinion or a deviant political stance can lead to ostracism.

People go nuts over tiny misunderstandings because practically anything can threaten their sense of meaningful unity or organization. In this vein, notice how many people are attracted to institutions that define them. Define their beliefs, values, thoughts, vocabularies, semiotics, even their hairdos and clothes.

In FIML practice, partners also often deal with small bits of meaning. But rather than fight over them or accept them as definitions of anything, partners analyze them and work to understand how those bits of meaning are functioning, what they are doing. A FIML analysis is a process that works toward shared understanding rather than a static—even a programmed—response that is often instinctual, if not violent.

If you take meaning for granted—your uniform, candidate, religion, ethnicity—you will be owned and used by it or by the people who created it, often before you were born. In contrast, if you analyze meaning you will own it and be able to use it freely and as you choose.

While riding in the car, I spoke with my partner about the ideas expressed above. She thought for a moment and said, “You know how if a parasite kills its host quickly it is a sign that it is a recently evolved parasite?”

“Yes,” I said.

“Well, isn’t what you’re saying similar? Those hunks of cultural meaning have been around for centuries. They are like successful parasites that condition the behaviors of millions of people at a time.”

“Nice,” I said.

“FIML is recent and it may not survive because it is hard to pass on to others. It’s not a parasite, though. It frees us from the parasitism of convention. It doesn’t allow us to get locked in.”

Some good news on free speech

American first amendment rights are fundamental to our system. It is good to read that Purdue University has taken measures to ensure their protection:

“A university violates its special mission if it fails to protect free and open debate. No one can expect his views to be free from vigorous challenge, but all must feel completely safe in speaking out,” he said in a university news release.

The ambiguous commons and human culture

In a post some months ago, I introduced the idea of an “ambiguous commons,” a region of shared public meaning that is both central to any and all cultures and inherently vague.

I think it is fair to say that virtually all human communication takes place in and around an “ambiguous commons,” a common area of meaning that can be variously interpreted and is liable to always be ambiguous. (Source same as above)

All cultural meaning arises through the communicative interactions of the members of that culture.

The ambiguous commons is defined  by (and provides definition to) a dynamic push-and-push-back of the members of the community. This is a never-ending dynamic, even a struggle, that members of the community engage in as long as they live.

There is rarely, if ever, any clear resolution of meaning because common meaning is constantly changing due to the dynamic forces of many communicants.

I am speaking less about big ideas (though it is much the same for them) as the smaller ideas of individuals who interact with other individuals. Your sense of my responsibilities may be different from mine, thus causing a push-and-push-back to occur between us should we require a definition of responsibility in any given situation.

The same can be said for any other cultural value, sign, or concept. My notion of justice will be different from yours in some situations, as will your sense of fairness be different from mine.

Since it is frequently difficult for people to resolve differing interpretations of the ambiguous commons, emotions or status claims often come into play. The emotions that arise in commons disputes can be remarkably childish or primitive, and the same can be said of status jockeying.

Strongly asserted primitive emotions, not clarity of thought or reason, frequently will win the game of defining whatever the issue is. (This also shows that for people, human communicative semiotics are primary percepta and that humans tend to react to them through the “natural” “instincts” of fear, violence, warmth, aggression, congregation, etc.)

For example, if person A says that person B is arrogant, person B is somewhat obligated to respond. B might accept the accusation and apologize or B might push back, either defensively or aggressively. If B declines to do anything, it is a sign that B has left the commons and no longer shares or wants to share that aspect of the commons with person A.

In the abstract, both A and B may use the word “responsibility” in similar ways and appear to mean the same thing. When the rubber meets the road, however, and A disapproves of B’s sense of responsibility in a particular situation, a squabble over their shared common meaning often will ensue.

Either party may attempt to enlist others to their side and so on.

When people do FIML practice, since their capacity for apprehending shared meaning is much better than those who do not, disputes in and around the ambiguous commons will be much less common. Differences will still arise, but they will be much easier to settle since emotional pushing-and-pushing-back is no longer needed to arrive at shared definitions and interpretations.

FIML is not fundamentally about speaking in (fake) nice tones and having (limited) good manners or manifesting (stock) respect. FIML is about removing ambiguity from the meanings shared by partners. FIML partners have still been raised in cultures that function through ambiguous commons, but between themselves there is much less ambiguity and much less need to assert a position by emotional force.


“Antiracism” is part of a PC phalanx of ideas that permit no dissent and thus are effectively totalitarian. Besides being stupid and wrong totalitarianism and political correctness are boring. The excerpt below is from an essay on this subject by Peter Frost. His essay is well-worth reading in full to get a sense of how widely held sociopolitical beliefs can become narrow and close-minded, effectively stifling discussion and rational thought rather than promoting it.

…Words like “racism,” “social Darwinism,” and “hereditarianism” create the impression that a single monolithic ideology prevailed before the triumph of antiracism. Actually, the truth was almost the reverse. There was initially a wide spectrum of beliefs, as is normally the case before one belief pushes out its rivals and imposes its vision of reality. Antiracism triumphed because it was more ideological than its rivals; it possessed a unity of purpose that enabled it to neutralize one potential opponent after another. Often, the latter were unaware of this adversarial relationship and assumed they were dealing with a friendly ally. (Source)

Pamela Geller on Garland shooting and free speech

Holy warriors and Jewish Jihad: Diaspora Jews in the IDF

The video and the article linked below it provide two angles on religious war. Buddhists have fought wars, but generally the wars have not been fought for Buddhism, though Central Asian aggression in China did happen and it did result in many more Buddhists and Buddhist temples in China. I don’t know what to think of Pam Geller but I do support free speech and greatly oppose “hate speech” laws, which fundamentally punish thought crimes. Obviously, I don’t always agree with everything I post. I do like controversy and perspectives that are different from mainstream. Both of the linked pieces give insight into non-mainstream thinking. ABN