American semiotic circus

American semiotics are delightfully absurd today from a semiotician’s point of view.

Step back and appreciate the humor of the whole picture: Moralist are trapped in mono-dimensional positions.

Our post-PC culture still strictly does not permit nuance.

Even though our airwaves are filled with mega-babes dressed—or half-dressed—to the nines, you are not allowed to look down if you happen to have the good fortune of working with them.

No, I am not laughing at the victims. I am laughing at the absurdity of a culture that cannot untangle the many inevitable ramifications of human sexuality.

This is truly theater of the absurd, a semiotic circus that evokes sadness as well as laughter. The joke’s on us, after all!

A murky accusation that reaches across forty years of cultural change to discredit a politician on the eve of an election brings out establishment moralists who simply must weigh in. But then, almost on cue, the photo of a now-former-moralist senator groping a former playmate through her flak-jacket effectively parries the charge!

If Hillary or Demi Moore does it, it’s OK. And that is how it should be, to be honest.

My sense is deep down we are witnessing a massive cultural change taking place in part due to (and despite) the semiotic shallowness of PC and post-PC public life in America.

My partner this morning said with real feeling, “Don’t people realize these sex stories are [evolutionarily] a million years old and our continuing to discuss them like middle- schoolers is actually hiding much worse stuff beneath them?”

I bet most don’t.

My hope is that these semiotic weapons (the accusations) are the start of a real battle against The Swamp alluded to by my partner. All cultures need deep change from time to time. Usually that change is violent. I hope this one will continue to be (mostly) nonviolent and absurd, a mixture of sadness and humor, profundity and nonsense.

Friendship, reality, psychological health

Psychological health depends on at least one good friendship which is itself based on shared reality.

This shared “reality” is the reality of how the two (or more) good friends actually function. How their speaking, listening, thinking, and feeling actually function and interact in real-time.

They have to know this about each other and even more importantly, they have to want to know this.

If you have or have had that, you will be or become psychologically healthy. If you have never had that, you will not be psychologically healthy.

This “shared reality” is not static and can never be static. It is always changing, adapting. It must be dealt with honestly.

“Aristotle describes three general types of friendship, that of utility, that of pleasure, and that of good or virtue.” (Aristotle on Friendship)

The perfect form of friendship is that between the good, and those who resemble each other in virtue. For these friends wish each alike the other’s good in respect of their goodness, and they are good in themselves; but it is those who wish the good of their friends for their friends’ sake who are friends in the fullest sense, since they love each other for themselves and not accidentally. (same link as above)

If during your formative years, your parents, teachers, and friends did not wish for your goodness for your sake and you have not since formed a good or virtuous friendship, you will not be psychologically healthy. This does not mean you are doomed, it just means you are not psychologically healthy.

To achieve good health, you have to have a “good or virtuous” friend and you have to be that back to them. There is no other way.

If you have an Aristotelian friend of pleasure, you can upgrade this relationship to a good or virtuous one by doing FIML practice. FIML is essential in today’s world because semiotic interactions are so complex, far more complex than in Aristotle’s day.

Good or virtuous friends need FIML to maintain their shared reality.

On rereading, the above sounds harsh to me. But when I consider the world as it is, it also sounds true, realistic. Earth can be a very bad place but it can also be very good.

Anxiety and default brain states

Our brains/minds have default states (plural) that we tend toward for a variety of reasons—pleasure, boredom, habit, even a systems checkup.

Default states are generally based on instincts like hunger, sex, fear, love, anger, disgust, humor, aesthetic joy, etc.

Humans tend to dress default states up. Instead of just eating something when hungry, most of us take time to prepare something good or pay someone to do that for us.

Everybody knows what we do with sex. Love, anger, hate, humor, disgust, fear, curiosity, thoughtfulness and so on are not very different in the many ways we dress them up.

Anxiety can be usefully understood as one of the default states of the brain/mind/body.

Anxiety is based on fear. We need this state in its basic form. If we are attacked by a wild dog, we need to be able to dump adrenaline and cortisol into our system quickly.

In many cases, though, anxiety takes on a life of its own and arises even when we are not in real danger. I think this indicates a default state that we can become habituated to in much the same way that we can become habituated to overeating, drunkenness, hate, anger, or unreasonable trust, love, or desire. Additionally, some bouts of anxiety can be understood as the system simply running a checkup.

People watch horror films because we like feeling afraid. It focuses the mind. We take risks because risks make us feel alive. Like horror films or danger sports, risk-taking focuses the mind.

Anxiety also focuses the mind. I think we like this aspect of it in many cases. It stimulates the brain and body, providing a level of clarity that feels very good, especially if we are hanging from a rock 500 ft above the ground.

Sometimes when we feel anxiety we can go out and do something, go running, ride a motorcycle, go surfing. When we do something that requires high levels of mental focus, we use our anxious state for what nature “intended.”

For myself, I notice that thinking about anxiety helps me put it in its proper place. I also notice that something unexpected—a health scare or good news—can immediately change my mental priorities, greatly demoting anxieties that had seemed so real just moments before.

Anxiety and desire

There are many similarities between anxiety and desire.

  • Anxiety is the strong word for something we do not want. Desire is a general word for something we do want.
  • Anxiety is based on fear, desire on pleasure.
  • Both are forward-leaning mental and emotional states involving planning, imagination, and expectation.
  • In their basic states, neither is a problem until it becomes excessive.
  • Most of the time most people know when a desire is excessive.
  • It is harder to know when anxieties are excessive, probably because they are fear-based and we instinctively use more resources to avoid danger.
  • If a desire is excessive, we can often reduce it by doing the Contemplation on Uncleanness, by contemplating what’s bad about it.
  • Anxieties can be reduced by contemplating how many of them have been wrong in the past and how little good it does to feel anxious.
  • A main job of the conscious mind is to scan the world for danger. All animals do this.
  • As semiotic, social animals, humans experience many fears in the semiotic and/or social realms.
  • We cannot avoid scanning for danger because real dangers do exist.
  • Anxieties occur when the perception of danger is disproportionate.
  • If possible, it is best not to use drugs to control anxiety.
  • Anxiety stimulates the brain and nervous system and within reasonable ranges is probably good for both. Anti-anxiety drugs dull us, though occasional usage in some situations is probably a good idea.
  • Anxiety can be rewarding when it is relieved. It feels wonderful when it goes away.
  • The far side of anxiety—when you see the oven was not on—feels good and may be a major reason many people subconsciously indulge in anxiety. Its resolution fulfills the desire to not feel that way.
  • Anxiety focuses the mind. When one anxiety is removed, another often appears.
  • As an instinct (that consciously scans for danger), anxiety when excessive can be understood as being an indulgence or “fetshization” of an instinct.
  • In this, it is somewhat similar to over indulgence in other instincts—gluttony, drunkenness, sex addiction, greed, laziness, and so on.
  • We probably fetishize instincts because it is a fairly easy thing for us to do. As semiotic animals, that is how we play, that’s what we know how to do.
  • Definitely best to avoid identifying with anything but especially fetishized instincts.
  • In Buddhist terms, identifying your transient sentience with anything is the basis of forming a self.
  • A good deal of anxiety involves fears pertaining to the self, to its stories, identity, instincts, memories, desires, and so on.
  • It is good to pay close attention to whatever is making you feel anxious and also to mildly stimulate anxious feelings when you are not anxious. This helps you see what anxiety is and how it functions in you, how it becomes excessive and why.
  • It is also good to discuss this topic with a friend because this helps us become more objective about it.
  • When we can expand the semiotic context of anything, we change it.

Conscious of what?

A primary question about consciousness is “conscious of what?”

What if your consciousness is based on an error?

If you become conscious of the error, you will most likely correct it and thus change your consciousness.

Metacognition is a word that is sometimes used in place of “consciousness.”

Metacognition implies awareness of how our consciousness is functioning.

Buddhist mindfulness can be defined as “active metacognition.” This implies awareness of what is in our consciousness, what the elements of its functioning are in the moment.

Buddhist practice assume that if while being mindful we perceive error in our consciousness, we will correct the error.

Metacognition requires “self-awareness” or “awareness of the functioning of consciousness.” It seems that most people do this better than most animals in most situations.

Metacognition or mindfulness requires training or practice. But training and practice can also be wrong, based on wrong views.

Many forms of selfhood are based on wrong views.

Right mindfulness is used to perceive these mistakes and correct them.

For example, a person can be trained to have an identity. They can practice having this identity and learn the emotions that go along with it.

With wrong training and practice an identity can become explosive, violent, crazy.

This is a major part of what is meant by delusion in Buddhism, having a wrong view about your identity.

Notice, that a person can have a very wrong identity and be fully conscious of it and the world around them without realizing their identity is wrong.

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Related subjects:

Re-representing consciousness: dissociations between experience and meta-consciousness

Consciousness Goes Deeper Than You Think

There Is an ‘Unconscious,’ but It May Well Be Conscious

Transcendental experiences during meditation practice

How to evaluate something you don’t know

A fascinating post by Robin Hanson—We Add Near, Average Far—describes some of the difficulty of presenting an idea like FIML to an Internet audience.

The problem is lots of detail and many bits of evidence make it difficult for people to evaluate the overall worth of a complex idea because people tend to evaluate information of that type by averaging the data rather than adding it up.

Should we just say that FIML will make you and your partner smarter and happier? Maybe we should when discussing it online, though of course, we won’t do that.

In person, we have found people quite receptive, but that is probably due to the same effect—in person we focus on one or two results of FIML practice and we only do that if people show interest.

I think Buddhism probably has a similar problem getting it’s message across through books or film. You really have to go to a temple or spend time with people who understand the Dharma to want to take on Buddhism as a way of thinking or living.

Up close and personal, most of us realize that we live in a very complex world and that our capacities for understanding our conditions cannot be taken for granted. But when it comes to learning how to hone or augment our skills for dealing with speech and symbolic communication, we tend to look for simple answers, or abstract ones, that do not include the kinds of detail we must pay attention to. Broad extrinsic theories that provide a general picture without essential detail—and these are everywhere in psychology, religion, sociology, the humanities—simply cannot do for you what a technique like FIML can because FIML is entirely based on the actual data of your actual life, and there is a great deal of that.

I do understand why it is hard to see this. At the same time, I wonder why it is so obvious in the physical sciences and engineering that we can’t do anything properly if we don’t make sure of our data.

Why should the humanities be different? We simply cannot communicate well or understand ourselves well without good data. FIML provides damn good data.

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First posted 10/2/2012

The worst thing about the humanities

The worst thing about the humanities is so many of our insights and discoveries are used to harm people, manipulate them, propagandize them.

Another bad thing is the open, confessional, and exploratory styles of artists too often are used against them by gaslighters, scammers, back-biters.

If we cannot even allow artists and social scientists to speak openly, all of us suffer from the reduced culture that results.