Thursday, 24 December 2009

Searching for the Crucible

Sifting through job applications today I was eating literally giga-bytes of corperate mantra, my eyes quickly becoming soiled with a thousand pages of motivational Amercanisms, catchy slogans and bastard philosophy skillfully adapted for the free market. Then one item caught my eye, A career path little with was elegantly described as filled with 'Crucible moments' where an individual is remade in the paradigm image of Accenture, Pzier, SBR or whatever company it was. I found this idea quite attractive, had I undergone crucible moments? Certainly I may only be 24, but I've hardly wasted my time here and yet my head was empty- I could never pin down my 'defining moments'

So I naturally did what many of us do when we are lost for answers- I googled it. Unfortunately unless I want to work in Emergic Ecosystems, or buy the book for guaranteed career success and I still was at a loss. So plan B was hatched, a nice long walk alone trips to potential crucibles, perhaps jarring some joy or selling some sorrow but no doubt stirring activity from the graveyard of memory. Remembering my young self was particularly strange, it's weird one can be so curious and yet make little, if any, decisions for myself, in an inexplicable ball of energy with no focus but so much enthusiasm for relative mundanity.

Nietzche sprang to mind as he sometimes does

“I have done that," says my memory. "I cannot have done that" -- says my pride, and remains adamant. At last -- memory yields.

I was unsure weather to be jealous of the young me, happiness was easy for him, albeit empty by my current standards. Perhaps the hallmark of maturity is when we make happiness harder for ourselves.

Then I laughed that person is me or was me, I got really perplexed at how one could be envious of oneself, but decided to leave that behind and get to the task at hand. I could see no crucible in this empty, icy playground but I had this vision of the person I used to be, I had not ceased to exist, but now had chosen to exist differently. That must have a path, one of choice, development, success and regret. I had some idea of what a crucible might look like but still had fill it, and yet I could not.

I remembered that my dad had made me sing the songs he would buy for me to bolster the confidence that is deficient in probably every 8 year-old overweight ginger boy. That stirred mixed emotions firstly came from a very unique form of private shame followed by a realisation that maybe that was a 'crucible moment' One thing that struck me is that if it was, why was it so hard to remember? Why are such crucial developmental breakthroughs so elusive to us?

I figured once again we were still the same society that thinks self analysis is only for the sick, philosophy for the unemployed and mental crucibles something only discussed in IBM's motivational workshops. Maybe it's because we're in a habit of normalising everything we do, which makes life easier to deal with, but comes at the cost of self awareness. I settled on something Carl Jung danced with but never explicitly said- perspectives of importance are relatively transient things- There are linchpins, family, friends and the other usuals but by in large what was important to me to 2 years ago isn't important to me any more and if I go back more than five years I see such a foreign set of needs and desires that I almost think my memory-ego is a different person entirely.

“All the greatest and most important problems of life are fundamentally insolvable... they can never be solved, but only outgrown. This 'outgrowth' proved on further investigation to require a new level of consciousness. Some higher or wider interest appeared on the person's horizon, and through this broadening of his or her outlook the unsolvable problem lost its urgency. It was not solved logically in its own terms but faded when confronted with a new and stronger life urge.”

I like this Jung quote, at first it seemed depressing, forcing us to the doom of failing to 'solve' life's problems. Growth and development are matters of perspective and probably misguided allocations at best. The empowerment to create a world in which problems are perspectives and not physical obstructions is a intriguing if a little optimistic concept. I would be daring enough to say it does have some practical application, certainly I would say one of the the biggest problems of our age is unrealised potential, just another self-problem built on perspective.

I think memory can play horrible tricks on us, joy, I would say is perhaps the worst way to learn anything, in attempting to piece together my crucible I could not think of one experience wrought through happiness I had really learnt from, apart from, that it made me happy. Happiness never changes anything, in fact it's truly abhorrent trait is that it encourages us all to stay the same. Maybe man's true cross to bear is that development can only come from misery, pain and regret, expediency of the mind to end such anguish is remarkable and the fruits of such are lifelong. Persistence of memory makes me hate regret, such a terrible trick of the mind to label the crucible that forged me with such an illogical emotional impunity.

All to often we know those defeated by their past, defined beyond all doubt as worthless and incapable by the ghost of their memory-egos. It's seem a weird fact that people can become ruled by someone they used to be, but is likely a sign of a weakness and a failure to grow beyond our problems. More than anything these individuals have stopped valuing their problems, become dependant on their memory-ego as a ruler and refused to be a dynamic actor in their own lives. I think much of this modern depression is based on just that, not our eroded relationships with others but a damaged relationship with our past selves.

So I kept walking, I went to my old school, a park I used to play in, a place I used to eat. Many of past my selves appeared, I was envious of some, pitiful of others and one even suggested he knew I would come visit him. I asked them all what they had thought was important and the responses were mixed and still my crucibles were still vague. Largely they were happy with my present self, they were happy I still viewed them as important, they were my not my judges and spite my seemingly unending ability to recall regret, I had not regretted meeting them again.

I took to walking home having had tea with the past, my mind naturally wandered the future and a small glimpse of my future-ego appeared, I couldn't see him clearly yet but it didn't trouble me, I'd been vexing a lot about future recently but after the brief chat with the past I had realised I was developing in such a way that I was unlikely to be to be miserable. Though I had wondered about my sanity these days, long walks alone, talking to ghosts and being left to write the obituary of my two day old memory-ego gave me some cause for concern. Luckily Christmas won't give me much time to dwell on the sensibilities of such behaviours. Modern life is so full of distractions.

I hope you will make time for your memory-egos this Christmas but do so in the right capacity, not in the denial or worship of past selves, but a good friendship you can share a bottle of wine with over the festive season. I find my memory a treacherous thing often making me forget the wisdom of the past by focussing on present concerns, and treat them as a gateway to that oft forgotten knowledge.

My search for crucible moments was largely a fruitless one, but I found once again diving into my myself quickly became it's own reward. I worried less about the future and had made peace with my past. Anyway I'm being shouted at to get off the laptop, Christmas not being a season for the philosopher but will end with this festive message from Seneca

“That which is hard to bear is sweet to remember”

It's hard not to think of Christ's passion, isn't it? I hope you make time to remember some regret, search for your crucibles and have port with the past, I can assure you it's more christmassy than it sounds.

Merry Christmas everyone.

The power of discourse and the language of intent

You might say this work was pioneered by a little social experiment I decided to run recently- Those of you who know me well will know that I almost never watch TV. For about the last 5 years I find it nearly impossible to sit still long enough to digest a TV programme. Recently I'd decided to revoke that policy for about 3 hours a week, by watching for one hour every other day, a news channel from a different country. It was a silly little exercise to gain a little cultural insight into other countries needs, concerns and lifestyles.

Almost immediately I began to realise linguistic disparities- at first I thought this unimportant- nothing more than a different cultural take on language, but I began to see more on this, even though what they were describing was almost always the same, I began to realise how they were saying it was making me feel a different way. It made me feel incredibly uncomfortable, it felt like 'unbiased' news was still projecting an agenda onto me, but I couldn't put my finger on how- how could the same facts make me feel different things despite being presented in an objective manner?

Then I had bizarre moment, a collection of news stories in Afghanistan broke at the same time across three news channels CNN, BBC and Al-Jazeera.

The first story 'Terrorists plot Afghanistan election chaos'
Second story 'Insurgents threaten to disrupt elections'
Third story 'Neo-conservative Afghan rebels seek to end elections'

Now I'm no idiot, I'm aware that much of the media carries with inherently loaded language within it- but I would ask you this when have you heard Taliban fighters described as 'neo-conservative Afghan rebels?' This bothered me so much, because this in itself seemed the most objective 'label' for those Afghans involved in the conflict, essentially those who do not embrace democracy and support the opium dealers in Afghanistan.

Certainly a long way from bringing 'terror' these people just want to feed there families. When did the 'terrorists' (I E bringers of Terror) become guerilla fighters in other lands? It seems we've branded our enemies a people with no other objective than terror. Not only is this provably false, it over simplifies conflicts, and it shifts the justification away from us. We are the invaders, but they are the bringers of Terror?

I began to feel strange like I had been lied to, but the weird thing is I hadn't been lied too... Yet I felt deceived in meaning. So once again I took to the world of philosophy to find answers and found a political fellow by the name Michel Foucault, and politely informed me that I can be given an answer correctly in factual context but deceived in the emotional response of that factuality. The striking thing is he then said this is the basis for all authoritative discourse. Weirdly he had been talking about the soviet union, and yet I felt based on my silly little social experiment designed to give me insight into cultural values, it had all become relevant again.

Then I began the horrendous path of a crazed linguist, I began to question not only language, but the nature of the discourse that language had created. It seemed that discourse, across medias, that was always geared in one direction, How long will the recession last? It seems we missed out on a public discourse on how we might choose to end the recession, were bailouts the only option? Where did we borrow from? How much should we have borrowed? I don't know because nobody discussed these issues publicly. Our foreign affairs seems to be 'what will we do next?' not a 'Should we do anything next?' I find this subtle manipulative language style so dis-empowering. It seems with a little linguistic finesse it breeds with it a public consent can be wrought through a series of very tight avenues of extremely loaded questioning.

Orwell whom I mentioned before in a similiar capacity, I feel needs a greater mention here- his essay 'Politics and the English language' is a fascinating look at how phraseology can so subtly underpin an ideology without even openly advocating it.

“Thus political language has to consist largely of euphemism, question-begging and sheer cloudy vagueness. Defenceless villages are bombarded from the air, the inhabitants driven out into the countryside, the cattle machine-gunned, the huts set on fire with incendiary bullets: this is called pacification. People are imprisoned for years without trial, or shot in the back of the neck or sent to die of scurvy in Arctic lumber camps: this is called elimination of unreliable elements. Such phraseology is needed if one wants to name things without calling up mental pictures of them.”

I felt the words 'Regime change' 'Global security' ringing so hard in my ears it was deafening. Where had war gone?

Do I think the media is controlled by networks seeking to advocate some neo-conservative agenda? No, of course I do not- but I do feel that language in the media is beginning to become not only less objective but less empathetic too. If language can corrupt thought, I would ask you to consider to what the objectives of the undemocratic (non-democratic anyone?) Illegitimate (by whose standards?) terrorists (Weren't the Taliban a theocratic governance?) might be. It seems that language may have ganged up on these fellows but would ask you not to join this club of language bullies. Nobody likes a bully...

Don't be satisfied with reassigning adjectives, but I hope you continue to de-construct language but use that skill to re-shape a discourse. It's is the nature of egotism to deceive, it grants a power we all crave- I would ask you to identify and isolate the language of intent to that end, so that we no longer become slaves to the words of others but only the discourse that we make for ourselves.

That is the very definition of a liberal media- but you probably didn't know that...

I would begin to ask yourself why that is the case...