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Semiformalishmaybe

Seitan Tempts Not

It was mentioned that my last post may have not been super clear - perhaps few of my posts actually are clear. So, I will go into a bit of depth on it, both as a (public) exercise for me and as a potential source of clarity for others. I have no idea how interesting this will be.

  • Title - "Sate a Narky, You Topiary" is a play on words on Nozick's 「Anarchy, State, and Utopia」, suggesting that trees might tame the narcotics officers of the mind (those who belong in strong authorism - that meaning is strictly constructed by the author of a story, piece of art, etc). Trees in this case represent nature and invoke observation of it.
  • First paragraph is fairly light - the idea that many of us have parts of us that step back from what we're doing and observe for a bit. In computer science, "watchdog" devices did this in hardware to determine software lockups - they would automatically reboot the system if they were not notified not to on a regular basis. My feeling of absurdity was in unlikely combinations of social positional markers - idea that not a lot of techies listen to Alan Jackson, and idea that not a lot of either are interested in books on feminism or socialism. Implication: there are other unlikely combinations of interests and markers in my life I could probably list if I thought about it, and idea that maybe people are always this complex - people in stories are artificially flat. I consider whether stories are more interesting when the characters are flattened further, left as-is, or made as complex as real people.
  • Second paragraph - I draw on the idea that people don't actually live in the same world of facts - that they need to construct simplifying stories through which they understand their lives in order to give themselves a sense of significance. These simplifying stories give them "totems" of people around them, simplified to fit their roles in their stories. I speculate that demonisation is a particular form of this simplification, and one of the difficult things about telling people not to demonise is that demonisation is a direct part of the mechanism by which we understand ourselves. In real life, we direct our gaze at things that support our narratives, in order to protect them, and as each of us is mostly the sole author of our life-narrative (and these things are usually not discussed), it's sustainable to have these life stories being quite distinct. In other types of media (books, tv), we still can attempt to insert our own meaning into these stories, but because they're usually shared, we take on ourselves a cognitive burden when doing so - we must learn not to speak of our branched version of shared versions lest we create confusion, unless the work itself suggests interpretation (e.g. the last scenes of Brazil, or more controversially Hedwig or Lain). We may also have inhibitions about injecting meaning into shared stories - notions of propriety, ownership, or just a general unwillingness to put forth the efforts (hence the title reference).
  • Second paragraph, part 2 - notion of the gaze in film or book as the ability of those authors to direct our attention and experiences as *they* choose rather than creating an immersive, choice-driven environment. Idea that reality TV might be lessened by this a bit as there is less direction (and occasional blogs or other supplementary media that step outside the TV format - some other shows do this too). Even if reality TV is more suited to a less directed gaze, the user only gains a few degrees of freedom over traditional books or TV - it's mediated by the author (still being a story) rather than relatively freely explored by the reader. I claim that reality tv is usually rubbish, but it has some popularity that I speculate is tied to people's desire for TV characters that are more real than the relatively flat characters actually present in other forms of media, and that having complex characters and a relatively unplanned story is largely synonymous (not mentioned: a number of webcomics appear to be written this way - instead of planning story arcs, the author makes the characters and imagines how they actually would interact).
  • Third paragraphlet - I wonder whether all the stories we receive from TV and books and the like much shape the narratives we build for our own lives. This is a more direct reference (perhaps criticism) to Joseph Campbell's idea of the Myth; I wonder if the idea of universal narratives actually makes sense or not.
  • Fourth paragraph - "gospel of complexity" - I've often remarked that complexity is the most important idea I like to impress upon people - that we oversimplify by instinct, and that appreciation of nuance (one of my favourite words) is necessary to understand the world. We oversimplify the world (ideas like "muslims are evil"), we oversimplify each other, we think there's a unified "them" working together to face an "us". The basic idea is that we close our mind on situations before actual facts get a chance to help build our frameworks of thought, leaving us with impoverished frameworks that can't explain reality and leave us blind.
  • Fourth paragraph continued - I speculate that this "gospel of complexity" is a source of alienation - the idea of enhanced self-awareness inherent in really embracing complexity (needed to fight the instincts we're fighting) might raise interaction that's normally performed on instinct - people choosing friends based on some metric of how their life-narratives invisibly align (simple example - two people who consider themselves heroes may mutually consider each other a sidekick, and this may work provided it never comes up) while people who take this mechanism and think about it too much might break that mechanism. Likewise, if one comes to become an advocate for complexity, it may limit one's ability to enjoy films, books, and stories that are too shallow, like a plant that has decided to grow deep roots may no longer be transplantable into some places.
  • Fifth Paragraph - I reference my extension of Freud's theory in 「Civilization and its Discontents」, where I hold that the repressions and sacrifices needed for civilisation differ depending on the forms of government and society, and apply it, suggesting that repressing our tendency towards simple and emotionally satisfying judgements that lack complexity may be a great enabler of societal progress. I wonder if it's a safe thing to repress this though, as it's so tied to personal meaning in life (and presumably happiness). I suggest that instead of entirely supressing it, we might try a doublethink style solution, where we don't discard the idea of viewing the world through a (distorting) narrative; instead we keep that narrative but try to simultaneously keep a part of ourselves outside that narrative that could directly alter it as needed or pull us entirely outside of it into full self-awareness as a temporary measure when it's entirely inadequate. (e.g. when one is in a courtroom, one generally would be wise to put aside one's normal notions of pride and ego and submit to the court - saying "you can't interrupt me" to a judge or lawyer in the court just won't do, even if in one's main context of life it might work).
  • Sixth Paragraph - I remark that it's odd that we may need delusions (in particular, the distorting individual narratives of life we need to feel important and situated) in order to stay sane, and suggest that a metaphor for it might be how when humans travel into space, they have to bring a bit of earth's environment with them (air with the correct pressure, radiation controls, etc). Somehow the real world is like an outer space for our emotional life.

So maybe that clears things up? I admit it may have been hard to draw all the meaning out of that post (or really, many of my posts), particularly without having read my posts for quite some time and/or having had extensive philosophical conversations with me - I've received little feedback on my posts (e.g. "I don't understand what you're saying in this part"), maybe either because the topics are uninteresting to most people, or because the normal reaction to reading dense prose is to just stop reading. Maybe both.

I suppose dense poetry would not necessarily be better than dense prose. It might be more entertaining though? People use blogs as social media in such different ways...

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