Farewell Reality

Recently I was talking with a co-worker who had a couple of children and seemed very distraught about the situation she and her husband were experiencing with their youngest. The girl had finished her freshman year of college and returned home for the summer. Within the first week back the woman had noticed something “off” about her daughter. Normally one to engage with her family she’d withdrawn into a new digital world she created for herself. It appeared as her body had become little more than a surrogate to her iPhone. It was like something out of an episode of ‘Black Mirror’.

To my surprise she asked my advice on the topic. She was somehow aware of a book I had written a few years back, which in it had a short section about navigating through the family dynamic. As a social leper I had made what I thought was serious headway managing my relationship with my family and simply documented what worked. The problem though was that it was written from a slightly different generational perspective. I told her I’m not a millennial and I don’t have a strong understanding of their drives. My guess, I told her, was that they weren’t too entirely different from any other group of young adults; the chief aim to define themselves through social groups/orders that would supposedly recognize and celebrate individuality but really were a subconscious call to a singular identity.

She seemed confused by both the verbiage I used as well as the paradoxical nature of the phenomenon. I told her to not worry about the contradiction, that it was very common in most group dynamics. What I said to be concerned about, though not necessarily worried of, was to where the destination of escape from life was. In the past we sought retreat from our daily life in another world, one in which the real, physical presence of other people was still the central component of this new land. Separate from the other ‘planet’ we were temporarily leaving we found refuge in a slightly different group of inhabitants. But the frontier of these recently rendered digital landscapes was worth drawing attention to.

She seemed a spiritual woman so I made an appeal to that nature. Putting it in terms she could understand I said to think of it like this; if wherever we travel to we in fact leave a piece of ourselves, being drawn into a place that only exists as an electronic construct, a binary composition of 0’s and 1’s, is like a one-way street…we can travel into it but there was a danger in trying to escape back out. The deeper she traveled down the rabbit hole the less likely it was that she would come out and if she did she wouldn’t be the same girl she had raised. The only hope I told my colleague she had was to create a new type of reality to embrace and reel in her daughter. Having her undivided attention in this other-worldly dimension she could better dictate the rules of their interaction together.

Suffice to say I worked with her again recently and am glad to report it seems to have worked to some degree. They still aren’t operating as a whole family unit per se but the individual time the two have spent together appears to have brought joy to both parties. This to a greater degree is where I see the majority of the Americans heading. While I can’t understand it (or like it) in the end my opinion counts for little. The influence of a variety of other forces has been pushing apart the nucleus of humankind for decades and as we transcend into the 21st century this gap will only continue to widen. In the end despite how close we seem to become in reality, technology will ensure we are only further apart…who knows, perhaps nature sees that in their best interest?

Thinking = a truly double edged sword

In a spin-off from my post yesterday in which I profiled the genius of Gustave Le Bon and his book ‘The crowd’ I wanted to follow up with a discussion point inspired in part by the girl I’m dating. I’d also like to thank her publicly for tolerating my strange and never ceasing babel. The topic was thinking and the action as a generality. Le Bon was obviously a keen observer as well as excellent thinker. His insights into humanity are as brilliant as they are underappreciated. That last part is what has drawn me specifically to this concept.

You see I believe that to a certain degree thinking as a requisite to life can be broken down into two types, active and passive (this is probably someone else’s idea but I have zero interest in additional research on this point). The parallel to this in science could be stated as voluntary versus autonomic…programmed versus non-programmed. In passive, autonomic or programmed you have a type that doesn’t sit around waiting for other parts or deeper parts of the same region of the brain to get involved, it simply goes like a five-year old after an ice cream and a can of Red Bull©. Active, voluntary or non-programmed on the other hand involves the coordination of at the very least various types of input and processing before a certain output is arrived at.

This in lies part of the problem…a reality I feel Gustave may have missed. One of the critical components as he pointed out of the crowd (let us presume society as a whole) is the turning off of the mind to allow oneself to more aptly be seduced to the will of the crowd or majority. Where Le Bon believes this is something humans do almost with little effort it’s the why I would say I differ in opinion with. Critical thought may or may not be the default mechanism for human beings. I would like to think it is to some extent, argument could be made to what level that is exactly but I have no interest in that debate. The point I would like to address is as follows.

I believe, particularly in an advanced society, one that even the basic existence thereof requires far more of our brain bulk than ever to just operate through the basics of, there is a two-fold issue with thinking. The first is that it is energy intensive and while our evolution has allowed an ‘upgrade’ to our mental software our hardware is incredibly outdated. The second and perhaps less obvious is the double-edge nature of thinking. What I mean by that is this, say a person is in need of a new vehicle (it doesn’t matter whether it is ‘new’ or ‘used’ per se, they just need something to replace a non-working one) and they spend countless hours researching only to end up buying a total piece of shit (something this author has done on more than one occasion). Time, energy and effort completely down the tube for nothing.

What a person learns from this, which happens in so many day-to-day situations for most folks it’s impossible to count, is that even spending the time and being engaged they gain nothing. The value of thinking has diminishing returns and the cycle of this goes on and on until they (at varying speeds) begin to subconsciously turn off this labor-intensive process because it’s results are financially or even physically painful. This phenomenon occurs most often in economically developed countries where these types of choices have over-run the human experience. It leads some in the population to then ultimately question the value of active thinking at all. Once this epoch is reached it’s all but a foregone conclusion. The greater part of the brain has been put on a permanent vacation and life becomes more manageable (though certainly not less stressful). It is as they say “ignorance is bliss” and a state of nirvana has been reached because they are no longer teetering back and forth on this double-edged sword.

A Profile of Genius: Gustave Le Bon

While I’m certain there are many definitions for what the word ‘genius’ means based upon the defining source both academically as well as personally I’d like to go ahead and give you mine. To me a genius is someone whose idea (or ideas) stand the test of time in that they theory or theories prove as close to accurate today as they did when they were postulated. For this first ‘profile of genius’ I’ve selected an individual I’m quite certain many have not before heard of – the French polymath Charles-Marie Gustave Le Bon…or simply known as Gustave Le Bon.

Born the 7th of May 1841 in Nogent-le-Rotrou France, a tiny commune in Northern France – population roughly 11,000, Le Bon would go on to receive his qualification as Doctor of Medicine from the University of Paris in 1861. While his career in the practice never materialized he would later take the knowledge he acquired from his education and apply it to the field of anthropology after time serving in the Franco-Prussian war. Influenced by experiences in the Paris Commune of 1871 and time spent traveling throughout the world he would ultimately hone his focus on the field of sociology.

It was during this time period, the 1890’s, he would begin to release a series of well received works. Of them was my personal favorite and title from which I will share excerpts to unequivocally demonstrate his foresight and genius – ‘Psychologie des Foules’ or as it translated into English ‘The Crowd: A Study of the Popular Mind’ published in 1895. So groundbreaking was this work at the time it was printed into 19 languages within the first year of its appearance. While acknowledging and highlighting the true inner workings of society his text dispelled many of the hard-held beliefs of the idealist socialist class throughout Europe.

Turning the fanciful doctrine of what is now modern liberal thought on it’s head he recognized that throughout the world cultural formation is built upon many similarities and that it is the assembly of individuals into not merely collectives but groups of immense proportion that self-sabotage the ability of people to make advancement whether it be personally, financially or through any other mechanism. As I’m sure you will read upon further research the cast of unsightly characters influenced by this and many other titles I’d ask that you reflect on the following passages I’ve pulled from the publication:

“It is only by obtaining some sort of insight into the psychology of crowds that it can be understood how slight is the action upon them…that it is not with rules based on theories of pure equity that they are to be led, but by seeking what produces an impression on them and what seduces them.”

“The heterogenous [those who are different] is swamped by the homogenous [those who are the same] and the unconscious qualities obtain the upper hand. This very fact that crowds possess in common ordinary qualities explains why they can never accomplish acts demanding a high degree of intelligence.”

“From the moment that they form a crowd the learned man and the ignoramus are equally incapable of observation.”

“When a civilization is analyzed it is seen that, in reality, it is the marvelous and the legendary that are its true supports. Appearances have always played a much more important part than reality in history.”

These four powerful statements, written over a hundred and twenty years ago and contained within just the first half of the book, are as true today as they were in 1895. Fight as we continue to do against the reality of things in an attempt to create an idealized world it is in the very process of coming together on a grand scale that we ultimately fall apart. With the exception of certain times of war, which can be argued are often spurred on by the sentiments of crowds themselves, our ability to come together to rectify problems or issues has rarely worked or been severely slowed by the enormity of the systems themselves. This insight, still likely to be repudiated by a healthy part of the population today, is as true in modern times as it was when Le Bon wrote this master piece. It is this observation along with the courage to catalogue and write about it that makes this renaissance man a true genius in the field of social science and someone whose works continue to be in desperate need of our attention.