Tuesday, October 04, 2016

Consciousness, Social Norms and Reality

The project of consciousness movement has been to make the unconscious conscious. It has been to examine the influences that one has had and discard what is invalid. I have had many influences, many of them vastly conflicting with one another; and I have been doing a lot to examine them, partly by myself and partly with the efforts of others.

I have known any number of people who did not like it where they came from, but still kept many of their attitudes. When I was 18 I had feelings for a woman named Louise. She came from the South, but she did not like many things about the South. They however remained within her. I loved the part of herself that was her and hated what came from the South. She has since then done a lot by way of examining her influences, and now we are best friends.

This brings me to a different topic, and that is adaptation to society. Many of the same people who militate against government power are insisting that people adapt to social norms. My response to that is based on political science. A rule that is not official is one that is not subject to accountability, check and balance, and that as such has nothing to keep it from becoming tyrannical. I would respect an official law, I would not respect a law that is unofficial, nor would I recommend that others do either. If you want your norms to be binding, pass a law toward that effect.

My parents did a lot by way of assimilating into America, and both of them are quite comfortable. I instead did my own thing. My life has not been as comfortable as theirs, but I have done more to contribute to culture and thought. I have translated five books of classical Russian poetry into English. America benefits both from people like them and people like me.

Should immigrants, as some say, assimilate? Doing so denies America all sorts of useful input. Nothing is owed to guys from Middle East who come to America and teach men in disadvantaged communities to be bastards; but much is in fact owed to people who bring into America valuable things from abroad. Americans eat at Chinese restaurants, drive Japanese cars, employ Hindu programmers, view movies made by Jews, follow sports played by black people. All of these people contribute much more to America than they would have if they had simply assimilated.

It is of course legitimate to demand that people follow actual laws. It is in no way legitimate to demand that people follow laws that are unofficial. Once again, a rule that is unofficial is not subject to checks, balance and accountability. This means that it has nothing to keep it from becoming tyrannical. And tyranny is not what America is meant to be about.

Once again, I would follow a rule that is official. I would not follow a rule that is unofficial, nor would I recommend that anyone else do either.

It is most certainly valid to understand where others are coming from; and I have done much work toward that effect, mainly at the encouragement of people whose views I respected. What is not legitimate is imposing on people unofficial codes of conduct. If you want your social norms to be binding, pass a law. Subject it to checks, balance and accountability. Do not create a hidden totalitarianism in a nation that is intended to be free.

Probably the best thing to have come out of consciousness movement has been the process of seeing such influences and making them conscious. That way one knows what influences one has had and can separate the grain from the chaff. Most of what one finds there is partly true. Most influences are right in some ways and wrong in others. The first step however is seeing them; at which point one can decide which influence is right and about what.

IN my generation, where everyone has been exposed to all sorts of conflicting influences, this process is necessary. We have been living in the world in which everyone influences one another in all sorts of directions. When Scott Lasch said that my generation was at sea, what he was seeing is an inevitable effect of democracy. Everyone will influence one another. The solution is not to prevent a mix; it is for people to see every influence for what it is and keep what is right while discarding what is wrong with each.

When I left the corporate world at age 24, I was accused of leaving reality. What I did instead was work on my mind to get rid of things that I had not chosen to be there in order to replace them with more informed choice. That of course got me labeled by any number of people as crazy or irresponsible. In fact it was highly responsible. I was making the unconscious conscious in order that I could make more informed choice.

Of course the consciousness movement – and its outgrowth the New Age – made any number of errors of their own. They decided that people's beliefs are the only factor in shaping their reality. That is very transparently false. Their situation is owed partly to them, and partly to all sorts of other factors, both ones human and ones non-human. They did not create the Sun or the Earth, and they did not create America.

When an adaptation or a mindset considers itself to be reality and nothing else to be reality, this error is one natural. They say instead that people make their reality. The problem in both cases is what people consider reality to be. A mindset or an adaptation is real enough, but in no way is it the whole of reality. Reality also includes the Sun, the Universe, the Earth, the oceans and the air, and other civilizations. Garbage in garbage out, as the computer programmers say. You create a false definition of reality, others may buy into that definition and see reality as such as the problem. The solution is not to side with either error, but to have a more complete view as to what reality is.

Reality as such of course is highly complex; and it includes all sorts of factors. I cannot accept the claims of materialist fundamentalists because I and any number of others – including people with strong academic and professional credentials – have had very real spiritual experiences. Nor can I accept the idea that people make their reality; it is obviously incorrect. I do not know at this time how to reconcile what we know from science with the experiences that people have had and continue to have. I do however know that both sides – the one that says that spirituality is for loonies and the one that says that people make their reality – are wrong.

Making the unconscious conscious is a valid pursuit, and one that is highly empowering as well as honest. What is not valid is claiming that one's consciousness is the only thing that shapes one's reality. Keep the truth and discard the error.  


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