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This Human Equation

Holidays from both study and work leave me with spare neurons to devote to idle reflection. I decided to read extensively on media ecology and economics over my semester break in preparation for my Masters' thesis as well as work on my General Semantics studies.

Chatting to an acquaintance of mine (whom I hope to get to know better!) we settled that, amongst a great many other things, one aspect of commonality we shared was we "didn't understand humans properly" despite our chosen professions of reporting on what they do and why.

Therefore, I will embark on an ongoing project entitled the Human Equation project, the title inspired in part by Arjen Lucassen's Ayreon record of the same name and the motto of the American Psychological Association; "man is the sum of his parts." It is my contention that our society has willfully disconnected us from one another; we work longer and spend more money and time alone, purposefully separate ourselves and hole ourselves off from the world using a myriad of digital distractions. These will comprise three initial experiments.

1. The Ellis Experiment
As regular readers may know, Albert Ellis, Ph.D was the father of Rational Emotive Therapy, a widely successful cognitive behavioral therapy. By applying rational, empirical thinking to every day situations he found that people could live happier, calmer and neurosis free.

One of his earlier experiments involved talking to members of the opposite sex since he had an exaggerated fear of speaking in public during his adolescence. At age 19, he forced himself to himself to talk to 100 women in the Bronx Botanical Gardens over a period of a month. Although "he didn't get a date, he reported that he desensitized himself to his fear of rejection by women." I, along with several others will attempt this experiment on a smaller scale to reconnect with people in a meaningful way.

2. The Postman Experiment
Media ecologist Neil Postman was both in awe of and skeptical of technology - especially media technology. While many of us take it for granted he contended that media was a Faustian bargain. It both giveth and it taketh away. It takes our sense of community, ties to the real and tangible and forces us to spend time away from others. In his book Technopoly, he sets an assignment for his students - they must forsake their use of all media technologies for 48 hours. If they broke their media "fast" they were forced to start again from scratch. Set in the mid-90s before the advent of cheap and easily accessible hand-held devices with access to the internet, it will seem that media is unavoidable by design in 2010. Therefore me and my fellow experimenters will attempt 24 hours and record our experiences.

3. The Rushkoff Experiment
I think this one will prove the most challenging. This will be an attempt to re-create tangible value amongst the community by exchanging goods and services in real terms with other people. Instead of buying from corporations, I will try to buy locally and trade with neighbors and others using a modified principle of "comparative advantage" - what I can do well in exchange for something else another can do well that I cannot. In his Life, Inc. he argues that corporations have abstracted wealth from local institutions and people and clustered it towards a center, far removed from everyday life. If we can use the abundance in front of us instead of from somewhere inaccessible, we can add value to ourselves locally instead of an elite few.

These experiments have a two-fold purpose - for myself to further my personal development and re-connect with people in a true-to-fact and purposeful way and to "debunk" the givens of modern society. That we must be disconnected and that "bowling alone" is not the right way but merely the path we have chosen in the environment we find currently find ourselves in. If the map is not the territory, it is time to redraw the map and hopefully through our own action and effort, carve out our territory for the better.


A Silent Defeat

I have talked about Korzybski's Manhood of Humanity in great detail in a post here, contemplating if we have indeed entered such a phase. I refuted such an idea, instead postulating we are stuck in the adolescence - an unstable transition that sees us valuing erroneously, remaining fearful of the future and striving toward ideals that are equally transitory. Reading Life, Inc. by media theorist, documentarian and writer (in addition to practising general semantics) Douglas Rushkoff a rousing and chilling condemnation of the corporatism that pervades our entire waking life, I wondered if it would be more appropriately titled the Adolescence of Humanity instead. If we worshiped gods and insanity as children, we now supplicate to corporations, brands and unsanity as adolescents.

Corporate culture does not merely exploit that we as humans routinely mistake the map for the territory, it insists that the map is identical to the territory and manipulates us into believing no other possibility exists. Corporations and brands exist merely as higher-level abstractions and as such requires our blind faith, not reason, to validate their outlandish claims. The intentional confusion of logical levels (PC vs. Mac instead of classifying both as "computers") separates us into categories and demographics that equally require our belief and complete and total submission to that belief to keep us spending our money on their brand - the goods and services they produce are largely irrelevant. Only a cult-like devotion to a product would elicit emotionally charged responses towards any claims of inferiority - "Flash isn't necessary for the web experience" is like saying an index finger isn't necessary to make a hand functional, but iPhone and iPad zealots parrot the line nonetheless.

Corporations and special interests wish us to be blissfully aware of the dual-function of language as behavior and language forming behavior. Buying a coffee from an abstracted "coffee house" stand in a local shopping mall, there was an item that could be purchased called a "babycino" - a thimbleful of frothed milk given to children. It pacified the children into thinking they were adult and sophisticated using the sound "cino" in the name as well as giving the illusion of care and provision for the children as parents (it's for baby - why would one deny a baby the pleasure of a beverage?) making both parent and child feeling content and even attached to the product. The drink becomes irrelevant but the kinesthetic experience remains. I asked the barista why it had such a name. He said, quizzically, "because it's for babies." He missed the point. It's for the corporation that owns the coffee house and no-one else.


Far Away and Here Again

Last weekend, I went away to Paradise Beach on the Gippsland coast of Victoria, Australia. I stayed by myself in a friend's holiday house and worked on several things and did some reading. I re-read parts of Korzybski's Science and Sanity and touched upon a part on "Unsanity vs. Sanity" that I am sure many people would find beneficial - I intend to expand upon this finding and deliver it as a talk at the first Australian General Semantics Society National Conference.

Towards a theory of "conservative characteristics." (an abstract)

Conservative characteristics are the tendency of "neurotics" (as described by Korzybski) to confuse the orders of abstraction and revert to Aristotelian "allness" as an infantile, learned behavior.1

In childhood, we make underdeveloped, either-or evaluations. Mother, teddy or television is either positive or negative. We seek to reinforce and seek pleasure and minimize disappointment, anger and frustration. These maladaptive behaviors may persist into adulthood.

According to social anthropologist Bronislaw Malinowski, humans underwent a process of socialization from their initial self-awareness thousands of years ago to their current state of societal development. Children up until around the age of 14 undergo their own individuation and socialization process. From the ages of 7-14, the child is thought to be in its "narcissistic", "egocentric" stage and through this stage, patterns of evaluation are seen to occur. Real world events and their evaluation could in fact take the form of if/then statements. For example:

"IF I keep quiet and tell no one that I am feeling hurt, THEN I may escape scrutiny and further pain."

This map or method of evaluation may form as the fundamental reasoning process behind most behaviors in the future. In RET or Rogerian therapy this may be called "toxic shame" or irrational thinking. If this becomes a repeated response with no attempt to adjust the behavior, this could be considered a conservative characteristic.

Methods for overcoming conservative characteristics:

1. The consciousness of abstraction.
Using the structural differential or the ABC model in RET. Read more on the ABC model here.

Preparation for a transition to evaluation of probabilities, not absolutes. Asking "If I do this, the outcome will be this" instead moving toward a Hypothesize-Test-Revise model of behavior.

2. Non-attachment to outcome.
Realization the test is more important than the result. Without the real-world test, NO results or data can be gained for later revision. The outcome has no bearing on the efficacy or worth of the tester.

3. Unconditional self-acceptance.
From this, new experiences may be formed. The beliefs of inherent "badness" or "worthlessness" can be safely abandoned and each situation may be seen as a "tabula rasa" for perceiving and evaluating anew. Realizing that situation1 is not situation2.

Korzybski, A., Science and Sanity (5th Ed.), Institute of General Semantics: Dallas, 1994. p. 495.


Learn Why, Unlearn How

Yesterday I received The Situation is Hopeless, but not Serious by former Palo Alto Mental Research Institute scholar Dr. Paul Watzlawick. A pioneer in radical constructivism and communications theory as well as valued contributions to General Semantics, his amusing guide on how to create a constant state of unhappiness I found to be both eye opening and highly useful for guiding my own personal development.

The fundamental principle that many psychotherapies such as RET, Gestalt therapy and even Rogerian therapy base their treatments on is that people learn how to feel unhappy and repeat these thoughts and behaviors throughout their lives - sometimes never learning from them - creating their own unhappiness by doing more of the same.

Dr. Watzlawick's book tells the reader in no uncertain terms to repeat his exercises to be unhappy. Some games such as "self-fulfilling prophecies" or "why would anybody love me?" seem absurd, but are useful for therapy acting as a "symptom prescription" to break an ingrained cycle of unhappiness in a patient.

In the closing pages, he references Dostoyevsky's The Possessed with this line:

"Everything is good...everything. Man is unhappy because he doesn't know he's unhappy. It's only that. That's all. That's all! If one finds out, one will become happy at once, that minute."

While happiness may be a spontaneous condition, it can be hampered by thinking that restricts such feelings from occurring. Watzlawick's wisdom is something everyone can take heed of.


Its Not Anything

"Your 'reality' (what to you is the real world) is playing either of two functions: it is either the concernful environment of your needs and is known by sharp, interesting figures against empty grounds, or it is a screen for your projections. If the latter, you will attempt to make the projections conform with observation — you will always be seeking proofs, making mountains out of molehills, or otherwise distorting your perspective." - Dr. Fritz Perls

Using a social "inquiry" website called, I've come to know friends, acquaintances as well as myself better through the asking and answering of questions about myself and others. What has struck me with some of the responses is the revelation of biases about the world that many of us hold. In the quote above, Dr. Perls, the father of Gestalt therapy insists that the world is one of indifferent abundance (an event level observation, as Korzybski would call it) or it is muddled by inferences, assumptions and unverifiable perceptions (a reversal of order.)

One such assumption that many hold is that "life has not given me anything" or that "life is no good for me." It would be irrational to assume that life must give you anything or that life must be good or bad. If life was to unfold around you without your interaction with it, we would still be stuck in caves, venturing out only as often as we needed to nourish ourselves with food and water. Once we travel through childhood and adolescence, we begin to individuate and carve our own path through life. We must depend on ourselves for fulfillment; intellectual, physical and spiritual (whatever that may entail.) If we sit idly and wait for life to approach us, we should soon realize nothing will come.

Yet people sit. They wait. They croak and wither under the pain of disappointment as life passes them by. Their regrets overwhelm them and they are lowered into the ground with frowns plastered on their faces.

Life is chaotic, but we can enjoy it. Reality is a place that holds whatever we project on to it. By observing it in its natural state and describing what we can sense rather than telling ourselves what we believe to be there, we can navigate it with less fear and apprehension and lend our causation into the grand ecology of what the world has to offer.