By arm’s length communication I mean “our deepest levels of meaning, emotion, and intention are either implied or more often concealed from the person(s) we are speaking with.” (see: Communication at arm’s length)
When we do arm’s length communication too much, we retard both psychological and sociological growth. We harm both ourselves and others.
Arm’s length communication is often a type of “sociological communication.” That is, communication that holds cultural, sociological or historical assertions above individual psychological experience. This can be a good thing and it can be a bad thing.
It’s good when it helps us see and bad when it blinds us. Bolsheviks were blinded by sociological fantasies that led them to murder tens of millions. It is good for us to understand that today, especially as our society is being torn apart by arm’s length fallacies.
I will now present an example of this tragedy as it is playing out this morning. What happened is Trump allegedly asked an intelligence analyst of Korean extraction, “Where are you from?”
As someone who has extensive experience with East Asia and Asian-Americans, I am aware that this question drives many of them up the wall. One example:
This makes my blood boil. It must have been so awful to be standing there having her expertise invalidated and trivialized. (Source: asianamerican)
As an ordinary American, I am also aware that this question with precisely that wording was extremely normal well into the 1980s and beyond. A younger friend I discussed this with this morning said she still considers it to be a normal question.
“Where are you from?” means what is your ancestry. When most Americans ask this of each other it means what is your ethnic background, what ethnicity or mix of ethnicities do you identify with or feel close to. It does not mean I think you are a bad person or are not an American. In a nation of many immigrant groups, it is a normal thing to ask. Indeed, it is the quintessential American question. Or used to be before SJWs came along.
Information about your ancestry or ethnicity says something (arm’s length) about your psychology and some levels of your “identity.” Isn’t it ironic that a commenter on an Asian-American site would be incensed that the president asked someone about their identity and then proposed that that identity might well-serve US national interests?
Here is another comment from a South Asian that says the opposite:
Being a Chinese speaking South Asian that type of response isn’t surprising. (Source: AZNIDENTITY)
Having lived in East Asia for a long time, I am well-aware that “Where are you from?” is almost always the first question anyone asks me in that part of the world. Chinese, Japanese, Australians, Europeans, other Americans all ask it. It can become boring to answer when the query is rote arm’s length stuff coming from someone who obviously does not care, but that is nothing to be offended by.
We are in a semiotic pickle and I don’t know what to do about it either. There are many other examples of the above, most of them stemming from identity politics in one way or another.
What is happening is that arm’s length identity concepts are being idiosyncratically defined by identity groups and then the demand is made that those definitions be known and accepted by everyone else or “blood will boil.”
For a period of my life someone poisoned me with drugs that affected my brain and thought processes. I don’t know what the drug was but I definitely know it happened.
That experience is the basis for the following speculation: a lot of mental illness is fundamentally characterized by tunnel vision or what I might rather call “bright room” vision.
At the time I could not see it but looking back after the poisoning stopped I can see that my brain compensated for the poison’s toxic effects by ignoring large areas of information. This was not a conscious decision. It was just what my brain did to survive.
In this sense, my brain was in a tunnel or a bright room outside of which I could see virtually nothing. I think of the tunnel as fairly bright. That part of my world was clear enough to me. What was missing was the much larger world outside of the tunnel.
If you have ever been in an underground train station with lit tunnels going to various trains (like Grand Central Station in NYC), that is a good example of this metaphor.
Now, think about people you have known who are suffering mental illness, especially those who are not aware of their plight. Do you notice that for many of them what they see is like that tunnel? It’s bright and the way is sort of clear, but the larger environment around them is highly reduced. For me, it was more like a bright room with a fair amount of stuff in it and people and things going on, but all I could see was the inside of that room and almost nothing beyond. Outside the windows everything was dark.
I was not fantasizing the room or actively deluded by it as much as confined to it, unable to be aware of what was outside it. My brain was ignoring large sections of reality to hang on to whatever I could.
Consider a long-term alcoholic, a victim of self-poisoning, whose eyes still glow. I think what people like that see is a bright room or tunnel and not much else. How else can someone who has been addicted to alcohol for fifty years still deny it? It’s because that larger awareness is not inside their bright room.
Consider a narcissist in roughly the same way. I would maintain that they really cannot see what they are doing in the wider context of all the people they are harming because they only see the bright room around them, the bright tunnel before them.
Borderline, neuroticism, and bipolar, especially in the manic stage, are much the same.
I am not saying that all mental problems have this bright room/dark world aspect but I believe many of them do.
Incidentally, all psychologists and medical professionals should always consider poison as a significantly probable etiology for all mental illness.
Examples of not seeing the trees for the forest are flyover assessments of sociological regions or general assessments of human psychology.
A more detailed example of this pertaining to psychology might be the following description of Borderline Personality Disorder:
People with borderline personality disorder are unstable in several areas, including interpersonal relationships, behavior, mood, and self-image. Abrupt and extreme mood changes, stormy interpersonal relationships, an unstable and fluctuating self-image, unpredictable and self-destructive actions characterize the person with borderline personality disorder. These individuals generally have great difficulty with their own sense of identity. They often experience the world in extremes, viewing others as either “all good” or “all bad.” A person with borderline personality may form an intense personal attachment with someone only to quickly dissolve it over a perceived slight. Fears of abandonment may lead to an excessive dependency on others. Self-multilation or recurrent suicidal gestures may be used to get attention or manipulate others. Impulsive actions, chronic feelings of boredom or emptiness, and bouts of intense inappropriate anger are other traits of this disorder, which is more common among females. (Source)
I have no doubt that this general description of the “forest” of BPD is somewhat useful as a flyover take on a psychic region that seems to have its own reality within American culture. The same link concludes that “there is hope” for personality disorders if we come to “understand that they are illnesses.”
Thus, a general remedy is assigned to a general “illness”; a semiotic contortion is assigned to the category “hope.”
TBH, as a Buddhist I must say you really should “have difficulty with your own sense of identity” because there is no such thing. Sentience in all its guises is dynamic and ever-changing.
You actually do not need a “self-image” at all. So if the one(s) you keep trying for are “unstable and fluctuating,” you are probably seeing reality more clearly than people whose “self-images” are stable and not fluctuating!
The fundamental problem with BPD and Narcissistic Personality Disorder, two of the most difficult disorders to cure, is in the trees. It is good to see the forest and know where it lies within the terrain of the sufferer’s culture, but the problem of any individual suffering from either of these disorders is always going to be in their trees.
So what are the trees? They are the actual signals received by the person, sent out by the person, and used internally by the person.
Those are the units that best describe what a sentient being is and does. If you can’t fix the trees or treat the trees, the forest will never be healthy.
Just as our eyes can distort faces as in the gif below, so our minds can and frequently do distort all of our perceptions, especially ones with psychological relevance.
Biologically, human psychology in a vast network of interconnected cells bathed in blood and chemistry.
Intellectually, we typically reduce this enormously complex system into terms that reflect types of behavior, such as narcissism, anxiety, dark triad, bipolar, OCD, self-esteme, etc.
While these reductions are helpful for understanding human psychology and showing us where to focus our attention, they cannot be expected to optimize our psychology.
To date, the human brain is the most complex thing we know of in the universe.
Once you have seen through your mom’s narcissism and its effects on you and have consequently been able to overcome much of your anxiety, are you then psychologically optimized?
Of course not. At best, you are then able to function better and feel better and, with luck, forgive your mom whose persistence in her narcissism was due to her enormously complex brain, same as yours.
So how do you optimize? Or how could your mom have optimized before you were born?
Clearly, it would have taken her years to correct her narcissism, let alone optimize her psychology. Same goes for you.
This is why all people need a system that works every day for many years. There is no other way to do it because optimizing a complex system requires tinkering at all levels over a long period of time and cannot be done quickly or be based simply on top-down category assessments.
The FIML systems works every day for many years gradually optimizing one part after another of our complex psychological systems. With current technology and understanding, I do not believe there is a quicker or more thorough way to do that.
An impediment to doing FIML is few people realize that their psychology is far from optimized. A sad aspect of doing FIML is realizing that you live in a world like that.