Thursday, December 31, 2020

Another Year in Paradise

I like to observe that we are experiencing the worst case scenario feared by the smartest authorities for decades. A century from now, we'll be remembered with pity. And we still are, same as ever, albeit masked. This is the low point? This? Seriously? We've been bowling in an alley with raised gutters!

Inevitably, someone hears this and grows indignant, informing me that it's easy for me to gloat. I don't have covid. I'm not a healthcare worker, etc etc. The curse for those holding unconventional perspectives is that people assume we're failing to "get" the obvious. So I find myself lectured a lot about basic issues of the human experience. COVID's bad, mmkay? My odd-seeming gratitude and satisfaction could - and absolutely should - be constrained if I'm properly educated about how people are having very real problems out there.

To them, I say this:

Has there been a year of human history - a day, an hour, a moment - where multitudes weren't enduring difficulty? Is that what you're waiting for? Would that be the condition where you'd tolerate expression of joy and satisfaction? If so, geez, Louise, the perspective you've framed for yourself dooms you to misery. You've sealed your fate. Enjoy unmitigated suckiness.

The people bitterly complaining about 2020 - who are the same people who whined about 2019, 2018, 2017, etc. (an unbroken chain of unsatisfactory suboptimality) - are not the ones in ICUs with tubes down their throats, nor are they the health care workers bravely attending to them. Those folks are all busy. They have no time for whining on Facebook. People confronting actual problems don't reflect over their disappointment. Whining's the exclusive domain of the comfortable.

The aggrieved express their aggrievement on gleaming super-computers while ensconsed comfortably in comfortable homes, warm and well-fed, enjoying vastly more security, comfort, entertainment, and interconnectivity than their ancestors could have imagined. Those who are anxious to kick awful, awful 2020 in its ass live as aristocrats while framing themselves as oppressed and persecuted. Like princes and princesses for time immemorial, they are increasingly vexed by ever-diminishing mattress peas. And they sneer at those with the temerity to propose they be grateful and happy when it's not all precisely the way they like it.

In 2020 the worst thing (short of war) happened and here we are; with goofy masks, sure, but otherwise still us, still here, still doing our thing. Trump's circling the drain and we enjoy all human knowledge, entertainment, art, and communications on slabs of glass in our pockets. No lions or warlords have poised themselves for imminent attack. No death from infections from papercuts. We're free to lounge back in comfort and complain about our immense disappointment. It's fucking fantastic!

Here's how we expel ourselves from Paradise.

Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Viruses (e.g. COVID-19) and Sleep

I've had a long-time health trick. Whenever I have a lingering cold, virus, or bug of some sort that just won't go away, I cancel everything and plunge into what I call "malarial sleep mode", and I don't emerge until I'm absolutely 100%. I guess this is what parents of previous generations were trying to encourage when they made kids stay in bed. Of course, we'd only watch TV and play with toys and read. Nowadays, with our devices, no one sleeps, really, ever. We just mainline coffee.

Turns out we're starting to understand the connection between sleep and illness, and it's all about melatonin (note: don't just take melatonin pills, for reasons aluded to in the article). Sleep may affect how susceptible you are to COVID, how bad your symptoms get, how long they persist, and even how well the vaccine works for you. Read "The Mysterious Link Between COVID-19 and Sleep" in the new issue of The Atlantic.

I've tried to be diligent about sleep all along through this crisis. I've ratcheted up the priority of a full night's sleep; I won't blithely shrug it off and figure I'll catch up the next night. I've broken appointments (via email) at 3 am during insomnia periods. I've also worked on my falling-asleep skills.

Saturday, December 26, 2020

Solid Clear Examples

...of perceptual framing.

Some readers complain that I keep touting the benefits of reframing without ever pinning down the actual phenomenon. But I've offered hundreds of examples. In fact, this entire Slog is nothing but reframings (that's my secret crappy little trick for coughing up fresh "takes" and surprising conclusions. I'm not particularly smart, but I reframe like a mo-fo). But, happy new year, I'll offer some rock solid examples of everyday reframing that anyone can relate to.

Bathroom Floor

I tore a ligament in my foot in June and, over these months, have had more ice on my foot than a glacier-preserved woolly mammoth. At first, I used a dish towel to separate my delicate flesh from the frigid ice, and would count the seconds. By September, I was slapping the ice bag directly over my foot and drowsing comfortably until the timer rang. And now, in December, when I venture barefoot into the perilous downstairs bathroom with the unbearably cold tiled floor, I stride in like it's absolutely nothing. It feels like strolling the beach on Maui. I can't imagine how it ever tormented me; I giggle at the memory of my suffering. My foot's the same foot, and the floor’s just as cold, but, mentally, I have reframed.

Thing is, I could have done so without months of ice. All that's required is an imperceptible mental shift...and an infinity of shifts is available in every situation at any moment. We falsely assume the world forces our reactions, so our habitual responses feel predetermined. They're not. They're volitional. We're free.

Similarly, years ago when I'd get a parking ticket, I'd curse, have my day ruined, and send a check. Now that I'm no longer scraping pennies as a freelance musician, when I get parking tickets, I don't curse, I don't have my day ruined, and I send a check. Same outcome, less histrionic suffering...which, I now see, was always optional. My bank balance didn't relieve the suffering, my reframing did, and framing can shift in any direction at any time. The world can't trigger you. You're free. To recognize this is to experience the liberation folks used to whisper about in awestruck reverence.

Michael Jordan

In the great basketball documentary "The Last Dance" (watch on Netflix here), Michael Jordan is seen doing the same mental maneuver again and again. The film doesn't analyze it, but it's a constant throughout his extraordinary career. And one would be foolish to ignore it, as it's clearly Jordan's secret sauce:

Whenever an opposing player says something negative, or cocky, Jordan marinates in it. Stews in it. And draws from that gurgling pot whenever he finds himself up against that opponent.

You might say he "holds a grudge", but that's not quite it. It's not about the other guy, or the thing the other guy said. This is entirely propogated inside of Jordan's head. A shift of perspective. In fact, when Jordan didn't have anything to latch on to, he'd make up a story, and suck on that fiction like a nourishing lozenge.

There are many words one could assign to this maneuver. "Emotionality". "Psyching up". "Grudging". But no. What it is is reframing. Every other player would come to work and try to sink baskets. That's the universe they're in. Jordan is in another universe entirely; fighting holy wars and smiting evil. That explains how he played like someone in another universe  Reframing unlocks extraordinary results.

You needn't wait for the world to present an excuse. You can shift perspective at will, by simply remembering that you can. And once you do, you'll find yourself in a different universe, as Jordan did.

Most of us have shifted into a universe of grim wearisome flatness. That's where we stew and marinate; that's the lozenge we suck. It's clearly not productive, but we assume the world has forced this perspective upon us. Uh-uh. That's backwards. By relinquishing our shift-ability, we allow perspective to freeze - and a monochromatic world of drudging boredom ensues. This is especially common in a wealthy, comfortable, non-perilous society, where shifts are rarely compelled by existential threats. Here in paradise, we must reclaim our natural shifting litheness or else be lost to depression.

Pancakes, Divorce, Pancakes

There was a great (but inconsistent) TV series a couple of years ago on Comedy Central called "Review". The show's host, Forrest MacNeil, (played by comedian Andy Daly) would review "real life experiences" - whatever the audience threw at him. Problem: his quietly sadistic producer (played, naturally, by James Urbaniak) used the opportunity to torture MacNeil.

And Forrest MacNeil was really really really committed to earnestly going through with each and every challenge. In fact, the show was a satire about the perils of over-commitment.
Yes, one of the prime tenets of this Slog is that loopy mega-commitment is responsible for all transcendence. It's the thing that separates us from livestock. But, duh, you mustn't commit mindlessly. Capriciously, yes. Playfully, sure. But never mindlessly. Mindless commitment is what makes people count every Toyota they ever pass, which isn't actually good for anything.

The third show of season one was "Pancakes, Divorce, Pancakes", and it's a great work of art (watch for free here if you subscribe to AppleTV, or scroll down this page and buy the episode from Amazon for $1.99, or watch for free online by signing in with your cable provider). It clearly and persuasively illustrates the power of shifted perspective (i.e. reframing).

In the show's first segment, MacNeil is asked to review the experience of eating 15 pancakes. He groans and whines and slogs through the task and vomits in the parking lot. It's an ordeal.

In the second segment, MacNeil is asked to review the experience of divorce. With great trepidation, he goes home and informs his beloved wife that her services are no longer required. It doesn't go well.

The third segment starts with MacNeil prone on the studio floor, cursing himself for actually consenting to divorce his wife just for a stupid TV show. Then, for his third challenge, MacNeil is asked (because his producer is a dick) to review the experience of eating 30 pancakes.

MacNeil heads back to the diner under this voiceover:
"It would be challenging to find meaning in any life experience, now that my life had no meaning. The idea of eating twice the number of pancakes that laid me so low last time should have filled me with a sense of dread or fear. But I felt nothing. I greeted the prospect of all this pan-fried dough with only a vast empty numbness."
He sits down in the diner booth, and, with nothing left to live for, numbly and mechanically rams down all 30 without pausing.


The Astronaut

I linked to this excerpt from a not-great movie a bunch of times before I went on my tear about perceptual framing. I didn't have words at the time to explain the move being described, but it was a sort of mental judo I'd been using all my life in order to cope, to advance, to conjure creativity and epiphany, and to escape from sticky wickets of every type. And more!

People hate this damned video. The woman's sappy and annoying, and the vibe is a nauseating amalgam of smugness and potpourri. Yet what she's saying is the key to life. It's Truth. And I'm not surprised it irritates people, because if humans were attracted to Truth (or even just slightly less repulsed by it), this would be a very different world. So try to overcome your aversion and check it out.

It describes the only bona fide magic trick in this world, and nearly everyone's missed it in plain sight. Reframing cures depression, unfickles the muses of inspiration, and helps you recognize you're residing in Heaven.

When I was a freshman in college, I discovered (via the metaphor of ironing) that dicking around with the universe isn't worth much, but full-out flips can transform. You can't do much to change the world, but you can always shift your perspective. And from reclaiming that pliancy, anything's possible. It's backwards to wait for the world to coax a shift. You’re the shifter. You frame the world, not the other way around, though few of us ever notice (even the incomparable Michael Jordan needlessly rooted around for external snippets to prompt internal shifts of framing).

Jordan was "something else". An astronaut could go from torture chamber to bliss in the blink of an eye. A cold tile floor feels like a tropical beach. And Forrest MacNeil effortlessly gobbles up 30 pancakes. It's all about how you frame things.

Saturday, December 19, 2020

When Monsters Flee

As a leader sinks deeper and deeper into tyranny, fantasy, and fuckery, the "opposition" comes to include an increasing number of bona fide extremists who won't go THAT extreme.

Michael Cohen is not a great guy. John Bolton is not a great guy. Georgia governor Kemp is as Trumpy as Desantis. I welcome them all to the fight without reservation (we've begged insiders to "speak up" for years, so we mustn't rebuff those who do), but it's a fantastic study in relativism.

We talk about the "lobster boil" effect: if you raise water temperature gradually enough, lobsters never realize they're being cooked. We are adaptable creatures, which is a blessing and a curse. It can be hard to gauge where we’re at.

But here's the yardstick: gauge by the awfulness of the characters peeling off and saying “enough”. When monsters flee in disgust - when even a Bill Barr gets fed up - that’s a problem.

And, again, let's welcome the monsters back to civilization. Monster repatriation is a wonderful saving grace of this sort of crisis. Monsters gaining perspective is even better than monsters shunned and shamed.

The Pitfall of Arrogance

The worst downside of arrogance is that it compels a person to sneer at that which they can't comprehend. This compulsion fortifies comfort zones, constraining growth, learning, and the ability to shift perspective. And those constrains, in turn, lead to depression. Depression's a punishment for arrogance.

Those who eagerly learn, grow, and shift don't get stuck. But the arrogant, steeply invested in their current position, are cursed to remain entrenched in their status quo, however miserable and unsatisfactory.

Not quite the same point, but the main cause for serious depression is the world's knack for offering an increasing load of evidence that you are not the hero you'd immaturely imagined yourself to beDepression is all about over-rumination, and that is the most common rumination ("If I can't be the hero of this story, then screw it, I'm out").

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

LEFFtovers: The Murky Distinction between OCD and Giving a Crap

Egg white omelet with sliced grape tomatoes. Sautéed baby asparagus. Reheated garlic knot.

This was one of the easiest "9"s (re: my surprisingly non-ditzy system for rating foods from one to ten) ever evoked. And, as any chef will tell you, it's devilishly hard to deliver impressive results with unadorned simple fixings (much less LEFFtovers).

Let's focus on the reheating of that garlic knot.

We use awfully sappy language to account for the conjuring of quality. With food, the cliché is to say it's "cooked with love", evoking Valentine cards and wooly sweater cat lady hugs. Let's expunge the corny language and examine how I crushed the garlic knot reheat.

I thought about how I'd go about this, off and on, all morning. Finally, I had a clear picture in my head. And once a clear picture has appeared - which means all obstructions have been worked out - there's an insatiable drive to proceed. So I strode into my kitchen with the studly brio of a pole vaulter stepping up to the medalist's podium.

Here was the plan. I'd pop it in a toaster oven, with a square of foil perched precariously atop to protect it from burning, but leaving the sides fully exposed so they'd heat thoroughly. I also needed the heat to dry it out after 24 hours spent sliming in its oily juices in the fridge. The moment the knot looked non-slimy (and not a moment later, because it would need more oven time and I didn't want it to dry out; I needed to preserve the chewy/fluffy/crusty), I'd snatch away the foil, turn down the heat a bit, and watch like a hawk for the moment when the knot browned into exactly the Object of My Deepest Desires (the harnessing of minute care with visceral desire stokes deep creative powers). As with my bagel toasting manifesto, I'd watch like a scientist observes a crucial experiment. Mere seconds matter.

I'd prioritized my two main concerns: heat and moisture, and in a very particular manner. Cooking teachers don't frame it this way, but I bear in mind that I'm always working on a continuum, rather than toward some finish line. The garlic knot shouldn't be cold, nor nuclear hot. I didn't want it slimy, but I didn't want to dry it out.

Cooking is a matter of midpoints, not endpoints. There's no endpoint in cooking, only a "click" of the camera - i.e. plating/serving at a certain point in an unending procession of possibilities. It's like writing - one could keep editing forever, but the supposed final version is just the capture of a certain arbitrary moment. "Process", not "arrival points". Always!

If you're absorbed in nano-moments, you can choose between billions of them, each conveying a different slant of deliciousness. There is vanishingly scant middle ground between under and over, or between slimy and dry, but if you're slicing finely enough (i.e. paying extremely close attention), you have myriad choices in choosing a particular slice to capture. The choosing is an exercise of playful caprice amid deadly seriousness - an amalgamation few people can manage, which explains why food (even from highly-trained chefs) is so seldom delicious.

I've just devoted 500 words to reheating a garlic knot...after spending my entire morning thinking through the process. To most people, this would seem stark raving bonkers. I could, however, justify it by calling it an expression of love. Hey, that garlic knot was for my beloved. Nothing's too good for my darling Linda. Or Vanessa. Or whomever. Swap in a random name, and you're good to go. Suddenly, the caring seems more beautiful than bonkers. Love justifies the caring.

At least it did until a generation ago. Yesterday's "love" is today's "OCD", and I'm not being cute; it's true. "OCD" is now applied, willy-nilly, to any instance of deep caring. Einstein working on Relativity? Beethoven composing in a diaper? Ugh. OCD, man. Take a chill pill. Find yourself some life/work balance.

OCD is a mental health problem where care is lavished where it doesn't matter. Cooking and other matters of actual utility and/or creativity do matter, always. "Obsessing" over your work - whether you're a choreographer, a barrista, or a mechanic - is what elevates us from livestock. It's sacred.

Martin Luther King skewed it as more of an ego appeal, but conveyed the basic gist:
“If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as a Michaelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, 'Here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well.”
Obsessing over your stuff is a lesser mission. Obsessing over Linda or Vanessa used to be beautiful, though it lately seems "unbalanced". But obsessing about counting every single Toyota you ever pass makes you OCD. No bueno.

Lavishing your deepest attention on your garlic knot - or whatever else you're productively working on - is the opposite of OCD, which is the trivialization of one's limited time on Earth. It's true that a garlic knot - which pops in your mouth and is gone moments later - sits on the very brink of triviality. But the garlic knot in the photo, above, was as good as it looked. Two hours later, I'm still aglow. That's proof that it wasn't trivial; that it deserved my attention; that this was no kooky waste of Earth time, but more of a legit holy mission (even if it's not as "serious" seeming a pursuit as selling your car or endlessly mentally replaying the hurtful thing your old boss said).

People with OCD needn't change their drives; just channel those drives to something productive. As with depression, OCD's a dead end where, as perspective constricts and freezes, wheels spin impotently. A depressive spins creative wheels, over-building pointless internal towers of brooding discontent. An obsessive-compulsive spins activity wheels, pointlessly over-processing some constricted slice of the world.

Those who build useful towers or execute useful actions - who power their wheels with verve, transforming solid traction into bona fide landspeed - are using those faculties in their intended manner.

I'm describing, fwiw, karma yoga. Anyone great at anything - whether they realize it or not - is a karma yogi.

See also "Explaining Steve Jobs", "Unhinged" and "Cousin Libby's Yellow Rice".

Monday, December 14, 2020

Vaccination Roll-Out

If this country had any remaining creativity, boldness, vision, and/or leadership, we'd gather all living presidents, Rush Limbaugh, Bernie Sanders, LeBron James, Fauci, Captain Sullenberger, and all the pharma CEOs onstage (or, at least, a Zoom chat), and vaccinate them all at the same time. Then have Beyonce sing a tune, for max attention.

This is how 1940s America or 1960s America and probably even 1990s America would have done it.

In case you missed it, I published, yesterday, "The Expert Skinny on COVID Vaccine"

Empathy Framed as Concession

This nugget got buried in a posting from last weekend.
The single most dangerous psychological tendency of our era is the deep-seated feeling that empathy implies sympathy and support. These days, to say "I understand..." absolutely conveys, to the listener, some degree of approval. Understanding is a gift one grants on the merits. It's a concession. A kiss.

This represents the very seed of evil and brutality (though it has not yet fully germinated), and I'd gladly use up a genie wish to see it go away.
Really, I believe this will be our undoing. Aliens observing from Rigel-32n will point to this subtle shift of language. It may appear to be a quirky little linguistical thing, but it's really not. This is a ticking bomb; as insidious and alarming as a whiff of gas in one's kitchen.

When did this happen? You can't deny that it has; roll the phrase "I understand him" (or "I understand where he's coming from") around in your mouth and see. How did understanding become approval? How can we possibly live on a planet like that?

Update: I just got off the phone with a 92 year old friend. I asked him "If someone during the time of the McCarthy hearings were to say 'I understand McCarthy', would that have made people assume he was sympathetic?" He answered, with great agitation, "Absolutely! Why would you want to understand somebody like that?"

So this correlation is not, as I suspected, something new. It is, however, horrendously awful (no offense to my friend, of course).

Sunday, December 13, 2020

Tearing Down

If you're determined to seem great at all costs, but are unsuited to creating or fixing, you have only one possible course of action: tear stuff down.

The Expert Skinny on COVID Vaccine

Here's a free-wheeling vaccine discussion with the Slog's longtime technical advisor, who prefers not to attach his name, because, I suspect, he was writing off the cuff (as a scientist, he feels obliged to be more rigorous publicly than in informal conversations with friends).

His words weren't chosen with weighty care, and his conclusions were cheekily stated, so this might not pass muster for publication by a scientific journal. But in terms of useful savvy - a well-informed expert laying out what's really going on, in (more or less) plain language - you couldn't ask for better. It's a great read.

Me: Would you chance an airline flight post-vaccination? Or does 90% effectiveness plus undetermined length of immunity leave too much uncertainty?

Technical Advisor: Of course. Apart from the fact that I hate flying, of course.

90% efficiency is the lowball number for the leading candidates. It means that some people will still get infected, but so far none of the tens of thousands in the trials developed a serious (ICU-grade) disease. In fact one of the vaccines (don't remember which) shows so far a 100% efficiency against even moderate infection. There will be a few cases that slip through, eventually, but the probability will be far lower than slipping in the bathtub.

Length of immunity looks good so far, and will likely get better with later versions. In any case, booster shots can always be given regularly, and they use lower doses, thus minimizing side effects even further. If the virus continues to circulate, boosters may not even be necessary, as asymptomatic re-infection would self-boost the system.

Me: How does noncompliance affect this? I know we expect a certain amount, and there’s slack (especially given the surprisingly high effectiveness). But what if compliance is surprisingly low?

Technical Advisor: What kind of noncompliance, though?

Not getting the vaccine is, well, not getting the vaccine. Lots of people choose to smoke, and they die.

Not getting the second shot could be deleterious for the two US ones (so they claim, but perhaps they are just covering their asses), but it appears that the Oxford one may be able to provide most of the immunity with just the first dose (although perhaps not as robust, so more -- albeit less severe -- infections would be expected.) It's all conjectural at this point, naturally, only time will tell.

Not getting later boosters (if recommended) may vary enormously depending on the type of vaccine; long-term immunity has nothing to do with antibody persistence (which is easy to measure), it's all about memory cells (and that's rather hard to measure since it requires lengthy cell cultures, at best).

A memory cells is like a stem cell specific for one antibody; if it encounters the antigen (bug or vaccine) for which it carries the antibody instruction, it is stimulated to start dividing and differentiating into all the different types of antibody-producing cells (IgG, IgM, IgA mostly) as well as some ancillary ones, all directed against that particular antigen. In Theory, as long as there is just one memory cell left over from the vaccination, challenge with the antigen will produce a rapid response.

Boosters are more often effective than re-infection, because the adjuvants cause a non-specific stimulation of the immune system, so the vaccine is more effective than the virus (alive or dead). Still, re-tickling once in a while the memory cells by the virus will wake them up and revive that cell line.

The response speed that the memory cells afford is important, because it shortens the non-specific (interferon) immunity, which can degenerate into a massive cytokin storm, which appears to be a major morbidity factor. The faster antibodies are produced, the faster the cytokin response shuts down. Let go of the chainsaw once you've found your nail clipper.

Me: I’ll try to clarify my question. If a large segment of population doesn’t vaccinate at all, how would that affect the situation? Is vaccine-immunized herd immunity in jeopardy if compliance is even more disappointing than expected by authorities?

Technical Advisor: Oh, that. Vaccinated people are protected, unvaccinated ones take their chances. In the US, people are allowed to make their own decisions and take their lumps. We still get cases of polio, measles, etc; their choices, their lumps. And if the children die, jail the parents. (This is not specifically an American problem, BTW, over 50% of the French say they will refuse the vaccine, and nearly as many of the Swedes.) Once the vaccine is here, it's back to a matter of choice; you choose protection or you don't. If you don't, it's like smoking or not using your seat belt.

Herd immunity is a lagniappe once vaccination is available; I firmly believe that it cannot and should not be made into a major player the way it would be without a vaccine. Encourage people to vaccinate, muzzle RFK Jr and Gwynneth Paltrow, by all means, but as long as YOU get your vaccine, you're OK, and let the others deal with their choices, however stupid they are. Even Socialstyrelsen, which delights in telling Swedes how many slices of bread they must eat, is shying away from compulsory vaccination.

Note that Technical Advisor knows this because he, naturally, follows the Swedish press. In Swedish. When not translating novels into Esperanto.

Me: Going back to fundamentals, what’s the difference between Covid vaccine and polio, measles, etc, where the unvaccinated DO imperil the rest of us?

Technical Advisor: No difference. The unvaccinated polio or measles carriers do not imperil the vaccinated, they only imperil the other unvaccinated. Once you're vaccinated (and get boosters wherever appropriate) you are taken out of the pool of potential victims. It's them but not us.

Depending on the exact circumstances, there may be a small amount of (usually benign) leakage, since immunity persistence is not a precisely determined effect, but by and large, that's it. Measles epidemics happen among the unvaccinated only, which does include a lot of small children, but this virus is fortunately not targeting the very young, so that's out of the way.

Me: Huh. So the non-civic-mindedness angle on anti-Vaxxers is misplaced. I’d bet 90% believe they’re endangering the public. 

Though on second thought, I suppose it’s right because they’re essentially creating safe harbors for pathogens that otherwise might be eliminated.

Technical Advisor:
I’d bet 90% believe they’re endangering the public.
They are endangering the unvaccinated public, which does include a small number who aren't unvaccinated by choice but by necessity: people with severe immune deficiencies or on immunosuppressants in particular.

However in this particular case the two traditional major classes of undervaccinations are not relevant: the elderly, because it seems that the vaccines do work on even the very old (Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip are scheduled to be among the first to set the example in Britain), and the babies are anyway not a target for the virus.

The only really problematic cohort is the transplant recipients, who already know they must be extra careful in any case, because any infection will be more severe for them no matter what. Even then, it's quite possible that some vaccines may work on them, depending on their profile of action (and here I'm totally in the dark, the intricacies of immune response are way beyond my ken).
They’re essentially creating safe harbors for pathogens that otherwise might be eliminated. 
Yes, but only for those pathogens without non-human hosts. Smallpox could be wiped out, polio should be soon, but influenza and corona viruses have huge wild animal reservoir hosts, so they will never be eliminated. 

Great short explanation by a doctor of how the vaccine works

Same doctor explains why the vaccine will work even with mutated version of COVID virus

Saturday, December 12, 2020

Intuition and Lindsay Graham

I have good intuition. I usually pretty much know what a person's thinking (no need for concern; the Invisible Man watches everyone pee). It's nothing mysterious or "woo-woo". If I were Gifted With Telepathy, I'd be able to say your dog's name, and what color socks you're wearing. I'd know which number from 1 to 100 you're thinking of. But I can't do anything like that because there's no such thing as telepathy. My cheesey little trick is a higher-level feeling for patterns of attention (aka framing), and there are fewer of them in operation out there than people realize.
My musicianship took a big leap as a teenager when I realized, at a gut level, that there are only twelve notes, not a jillion. I intellectually knew this long before, of course, but hadn't fully framed it as such. All musical complexity comes down to twelve notes, combined in myriad ways.

And while twelve's a lot, it's not unconquerable. You might easily have twelve friends, and remember their respective names, histories and phone numbers. You could learn to recognize their voices, and to anticipate their reactions. So I spent a couple years making myself intimately familiar with these twelve notes - making friends with them - and then I "owned" music, in the way that only musicians do.
My standard explanation for my intuition, before I figured out a way to talk about framing, was that "people really aren't that complicated". And that's both true and false. In our thoughts, we're infinitely complicated, just like music is infinitely complicated. But in our perspective (underpinning our thoughts), we're profoundly simple. If you can glean someone's framing, you'll have a good idea of what their mind is doing.

People often make it easy by announcing their perspective from the get-go. Most people, in case you haven't noticed, belong to one of a few dozen clone lines, in terms of personality. They're playing a character they saw once in movies or on TV, or are imitating family members or friends who themselves are copying.

Just don't take the shtick at face value. Look one level beneath. A "Super Nice Guy", for example, is motivated by deep vanity and unquenchable need for admiration (which is why you can't count on such people; it's gruffly un-smiling types like me who'll actually come get you when your car breaks down. Being legitimately kind, I have no impulse to stoke an image of Super Niceness).
For more on Super Nice Guys, see my posting on autism (scroll down to the section titled "Eschewing Froth").
So, often, there's little work involved in gleaning a person's perspective. And their actual thoughts are irrelevent. With an empathic feeling for underlying perspective - and for their momentary pattern of engagement (from body english, speech patterns, etc.) - you have quite enough data. Probably too much. As I've warned before, intuition's not fun. People generally put their best foot forward; they're rarely hiding lovely awesomeness. Intuition's like sniffing someone's dirty hamper.

If you pay attention to people's tilt of perspective, intuition follows naturally. Not re: sock colors or numerals, but you can glean trajectory, if not individual nuggets.
I've just deconstructed empathy. This is what empathy is; this is how it's done. Empathy and intuition are pretty much the same function. One can't intuit without empathizing, nor empathize without intuiting. And you can't do any of this unless you're lithely free in your capacity to reframe.
So here's what I glean from Lindsay Graham, widely considered one of the most enigmatic figures in American political history. I'll encapsulate his perspective via words, but the words themselves are, obviously, mine, not his. This is my rendition of the unverbalized inclinations and trajectories I see operating behind his veneer.
Why's everybody making such a big deal? I haven't "lost my compass". I'm doing my job. I'm supporting my president, pushing for my side, and giving no quarter to my opponents. Sure, I made cutting remarks about Trump during the primaries, but that's what one does in primaries. And, yes, I pivoted to support him after he won, but that, too, is what we politicians do, whether we like the guy or not.

I'm doing the same thing I've done for my entire career. It's what every politician does. Aside from errant murmurs of disapproval, one tows the party line and keeps one's head down, whether one likes it or not. My constituents love Trump, and I represent them, so, if I don't stand up for him, they'll simply replace me. That's the proposition, as laid down by the country's founders, so why's everyone so confused and appalled?
I'm certainly not saying he's right. I don't agree that following Trump has been "just politics". I think this time's different. A line has been crossed. Politics shouldn't be about stirring up yahoos to the brink of civil war or dismantling democratic institutions and norms or abandoning every core party belief to kowtow to a personality cult. This has been an unprecedentedly deep descent into the American political abyss, but the abyss itself is not unfamiliar. Republicans have engaged in a pattern of descent behind various Dark Lords - from Gingrich to Limbaugh to Cheney to Palin. They had no choice, if they wanted careers in politics. So while I'm neither defending nor forgiving Graham, I do understand his perspective.

And, in this moment, whenever you find yourself understanding someone's perspective, angels swoon. This is why I go on and on about framing, which is the underpinning of empathy. You can't empathize if you're too frozen in your own perspective to inhabit someone else's. A frozen perspective produces contention and depression. A lithe perspective produces empathy and happiness. This is why I've been on this tear about framing. We need to understand it now like never before.

The single most dangerous psychological tendency of our era is the deep-seated feeling that empathy implies sympathy and support. These days, to say "I understand..." absolutely conveys, to the listener, some degree of approval. Understanding is a gift one grants on the merits. It's a concession. A kiss. 

This represents the very seed of evil and brutality (though it has not yet fully germinated), and I'd gladly use up a genie wish to see it go away.

Plumbing Banality

This Slog is me working stuff out...and sharing my observations with eavesdroppers. But that's not to say I'm entirely unselfconscious about doing this publicly.

My greatest fear isn't being wrong or looking dumb. It's banality. I worry incessantly about stating the obvious in a needlessly convoluted manner. Just consider this Slog's subtitle!

I once wrote a posting essentially reestablishing the purpose of glue. I left it up for amusement value - it was posted with a winking grin - but I tremble to recall it, because I'm well aware that some of my more tortured conclusions can seem like some prettttty basic common sense. I'm never unaware of this.

For example, consider my recent posting "Reframing vs Posing". I propose that a person can actually do a thing...or else just pose at having done it. Whup dee doo. For that, 1600 words? Really?

Yes really.

We wave away our meatiest realms. "Imagination" is juvenile Disney fluff. "Posing" is what pretentious people do. "Perspective" is your opinions or whatever. Boom, done. Onward. None of this affects me.

I’ll phrase this Yogi Berra style: we don't pay nearly enough attention to the stuff we overlook. Framing/perspective is so intimately familiar that we go our entire lives without considering it. But, having immersed in it extensively for a couple of years, I've been able to shed fresh light on autism, addiction, depression (here and here), and creativity. It helped me, some shmucky trombonist, to construct an original and credible theology, cosmology and quick-start guide for would-be messiahs. Framing might be banal, but plumbing it has produced a gusher of answers to eternal mysterious. Don't write off banalities!

"Being" versus "seeming" - the Authenticity question - is likewise both banal and deeply productive. It's an everyday matter seldom explored. No one imagines they’d need to struggle to distinguish actuality from posing, yet the world is plagued by massive delusion, everyone oppressed by sad movies playing in their heads. We recently added the phrase "First World/Rich People Problems" to our vocabulary (a promising sign!) but we don't yet see the full extent of it...because we're not paying enough attention there.

Sooooo.....while my recent posting "Reframing vs Posing" seemed to laboriously fixate on familiar terrain, it’s truly worth peering behind the veil. The distinction I’m drawing is not intellectual. It's practical. It's about the tone of our lives and our happiness, both of which are - surprise! - completely under our own volition.

Where do you draw the line between forgiveness and just telling yourself you forgave? The thing versus the story? It's not a pedantic distinction, though I realize it smells like philosophy:
Philosophy is abstract conceptual masturbation, usually irrelevant for everyday people. This material is anything but. All things mind-bending and assumption-challenging are not philosophy! Every "long view" is not philosophy! It's a lazy term. Like "ethnic food", it's a planet-sized drawer where we toss anything not brutally familiar. This material is too singular to sort, so into the drawer it goes. "Smells like philosophy" justifies one's retreat back to a more comfortable diet.
If we were as clear about seeming-vs-being as we think we are, this would be a very different world. We wouldn’t wonder why our declarative New Year's resolutions fizzle. We wouldn't feel angry and depressed when the universe presents evidence to suggest we're not the heroes we presume ourselves to be.

Practical benefits can be gleaned from exploring these questions. Much of our misery and bewilderment stems from our habit of confusing the two faculties of consciousness. "Thinking" is not "framing", and "framing" is not "thinking". We use cognition to fake/pose/simulate/charade. It's insubstantial commentary; a perpetual tickertape of noisy mental flotsam. But with our framing, which is way deeper than thinking, we can shift everything fundamentally. Real forgiveness, for example, isn't some dramatic interlude - a scene to play out; a string of thoughts and words. Like all reframings, it's a foundational pivot that can be executed in the bat of an eyelash with zero effort. This banal faculty we perennially overlook turns out to be frigging incredible.

If we can untangle our assumptions about consciousness, we can wield it more productively, rather than use it to make ourselves needlessly miserable amid Utopia. I’m explaining how to regain control of innate faculties, which has nothing to do with pointy-headed philosophy. Banality is juicy!

If you've recognized the breadth of creativity and insight compiled here over the past twelve years, take note that I'm freely spilling my secrets of how I did it as I go. Bear in mind that I'm not super smart. I'm nowhere near as smart as this Slog. I'm the hapless little dude behind the curtain. But reframing’s my cheap magic trick, and I’ve been framing the framing for you.

Yes, it gets wordy. Conventional perspectives must be examined and overturned before you can be coaxed into considering the unfamiliar underpinnings of the commonplace. It’s nothing scary/trippy. It feels like home, where you’ve been all along. Banal! What’s weird and creepy and stilted is the movie you’ve been pretending to star in. That’s why we all feel so ill at ease!

I'll keep explaining how you can have your output (in whatever realm) vastly exceed your ability...and be happy...and evade depression...and be free. Just grant me slack on the banality thing, ok? I promise I won't waste your time with needless convolution. If I appear to be convoluting, there's something there. So convolute with me! Let's have ourselves a Convolution!

Wednesday, December 9, 2020

Leaning Away From the Crack Buzz

Back in November, I posted Maybe Don't Lock Him Up
I agree with this outspokenly anti-Trump and anti-corruption former federal prosecutor that as much as we'd all thirst to investigate the Trump administration - and as convincing as some of the arguments to do so might be - in the end, not investigating would better serve the greater public good. He makes a well-rounded case for it, so please check out the op-ed (it's a very quick read) before you read my uptake (which doesn't restate all his points).

1. The very worst aspect of these past four years, psychologically, has been the fulfillment of Trump’s fondest wish: an entire nation (supporters and opponents, both) entirely obsessed with Donald Trump. We ate Trump for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The next four years can’t continue to be all about Donald Trump. We must not extend the lease on a madman's inhabitation of our psychic space.

(That said, we’ll see whether mainstream news can resist the ratings candy of his tweets and utterances as a private citizen - which they’ll no longer have a duty to report. If they do remain locked on to that stuff, we’ll see whether weary viewers can create pressure on them not to. It's not a necessity. Alex Jones, for example, has been saying horrific crap all day every day with very little of it reamplified by mainstream media. Trump could and should be relegated to similar irrelevance, though it will likely require viewer/reader/reporter boycotts to convince networks and publishers to do so.)

2. “Lock him/her up” can't become our new normal refrain. Defeat and disgrace must be sufficient (plus less publicly spectacular legal proceedings in, for example, New York State - if litigation and punishment are what you wish for this guy, fear not). As I wrote in "Some Real Talk About Face-Eating Hyenas”:
Here's a simple adjustment to avoid getting your face eaten: satisfy yourself with milder punishment for your perceived opponents and oppressors.”
I may have also offered this observation a time or two:
History always unfolds via a succession of immoderately reactive pendulum swings. Will we human beings ever learn to react to extremism with enlightened moderation rather than with reciprocal extremism?
A week later, I turned around and posted Maybe We Should Investigate Trump
The great Rick Wilson dissents convincingly:
"Some people believe we should enter a new era of comity and goodwill... We should offer a soft landing and a gentle exit from the Trump cult, right? To this, I must issue a hearty 'fuck no'.
Only exposure, pain, humiliation, and (inshallah) incarceration will lead to a moment of reckoning for the GOP. It should start at the top and work down from there. ...."
I can't escape the foggy impression that there's a means for Trump and his enablers to have due comeuppance without extending his chokehold on our national attention. But I'm foggily unsure how that would happen. Like all of us, I'm numb and exhausted. I'm pretty sure Rick's right, and I'm pretty sure I'm right, and perhaps there's a way to thread the needle. Don't ask me how, but I'll let you know if anything pops up.
I'm hardly the only one stewing on this question. The Lincoln Project last night conducted a video interview with two august legal scholars, Jack Goldsmith (illustrious Harvard Law prof) and Bob Bauer (Obama's White House Council), who've written a book ("After Trump: Reconstructing the Presidency") on what we need to do after Trump's gone to (among other things) enshrine into law the norms we just realized can be shit upon by presidents lacking a scruple. And they were asked this same question: "Punish the guilty?" or "Avoid the Trap of Endless Reciprocal Punishment of Ex-Presidents on the Other Side?" Their replies broke no new ground, but it's good to hear their thoughts. I've cued it right up to that point, below:

Burying my lede as usual, I'd like to share an essential thing I realized while mulling this all over.

Nearly everything broken about America is epitomized by this mode of responding:
"It's perfectly obvious: He broke laws and was corrupt. So he must be punished. Presidents are not above the law. If we don't investigate and punish now, anyone will freely do these things - and more! - in the future. It's simple!"
It's simple!

This sort of glib, cocksure, you're an-asshole-if-you-miss-the-sheer-simplicity mindset (framing!) is like pure crack for Americans on both sides of the political divide.

  • Abortion's murder and murder's wrong, period. Simple!
  • It's a woman's body, she decides, period. Simple!
  • It's my child, I'll decide whether he gets vaccinated, period. Simple!
  • People kill people, not guns, period. Simple!
  • Illegal immigrants broke the law to get in, period. Simple!
A population conditioned by 10 gajillion lifetime advertisements is easily enticed by the reduction of difficult, multifaceted issues into sanctimonious axioms. It even works when the axioms are so reductive as to mean nothing at all. Millions were stirred by Trump's "Make America Great" and Obama's "Change We Need", though both were vacant (albeit stirring) pablum.

In effect, this is worse than mindless simplification. It's deeply anti-intellectual. It communicates to those trying to work through factors and subtleties, "You're allowing yourself to be distracted from the essential moral simplicity. My good old-fashioned common sense (the Right's frame) or my woke clarity and insight (the Left's) empowers me to transcend the tangly thicket you're needlessly fussing through. Shut up and go away and let my greater, cleaner, bolder sanity prevail.

"My tribally-instilled mindframe is always the higher one....self-evidently because it's mine and I'm me." This is the essence of narcissism, and, as I've said before, I've met very few non-narcissists.

"My simplistic gut instinct trumps your nuanced thoughtfulness" explains why we're anti-science. It explains why we're anti-expertise. It explains why everyone shouts each other down rather than carefully listening (I lose readers whenever I attempt to "right whisper" - to explain the Right to the Left). It explains why the Left wants everyone eschewing their views and their language to crawl up and die. It explains the Right's embrace of MAGA. Channeling gut instincts into viscerally reductive slogans smothers thought, engorges spleens, and makes everyone louder and dumber. Over time, it inevitably radicalizes people into extremism.

"We must not extend the lease on a madman's inhabitation of our psychic space" might be pithy, but it doesn't offer a sanctimonious jolt to my bone marrow, like "Presidents are not above the law!" So, for now, I'll stubbornly stick with the former.

"Presidents are not above the law" is an invitation to put away the argument and stop thinking. It's cocksure and resolute, and it brusquely side-steps all the important issues. How many consequences are we willing to suffer in hewing to a simplistic axiom (if you're on the Left, consider "Abortion is Murder!")? Do we truly want every new administration occupied for four base-stoking years with "Locking Up!" the previous one? Do we really want to enshrine Trump's politicization of the Justice Department? Is it really a great idea to stoke prospects for Civil War? All so you can cling to your marrow-jolting axiom? The human race has had a poor track record with that move.

"We must not extend the lease on a madman's inhabitation of our psychic space" doesn't make me stop thinking; it's a starter, not a closer. It side-steps nothing. Most important: it offers no crack buzz. So I'll keep leaning that way. I lean away from the crack buzz. Consider leaning away from the crack buzz! I realize this assertion is, itself, reductive and glib, but I really think we're way too hooked on the crack buzz. Sometimes it's best to just say no.

This is nothing less than a struggle toward sanity in an insane world. It reminds me of the quintessential Slog posting, "The Deeper Implications of Holiday Blues", recalling a time when I kept ping-ponging between actuality - a lovely evening spent in deep comfort and pleasure - and misery-stoking indulgent dramatic mental chatter - canned, contrived notions of what I was missing out on. It should not have been tough to distinguish the sane perspective. But sometimes one fights a headwind. Sometimes one fights a headwind.

Monday, December 7, 2020

Reframing vs Posing

I've written a lot about reframing. I've also written a lot about "being" versus "seeming" - aka posing, aka authenticity (which, btw, I believe accounts for autism). None of my writings has summed that up as crisply as my oft-repeated observation that most singers become singers because they want to be singers, not because they want to sing.

I haven't properly joined the two (reframing and being/seeming) together until now.

We can simulate reframing without ever budging our point of view. It's childishly simple: you just claim to have reframed. You say the words, think the thoughts, and call it an accomplishment. You can easily make yourself believe it. You believe lots of hollow things you tell yourself!

Let's take forgiveness as an example. As I wrote in "Liberation and Addiction" (as a recent addition you might not have seen upon first reading; I often post-polish my more ambitious posts):
A really useful testing ground for reframing is the application of Forgiveness. Not big showy huggy dramatic gestures; I mean the internal process. Shift from seeing it this way to seeing it that way. That's what reframing is, and it's stupendously, maddeningly easy (don't tell yourself a story about having done it. Don't just pose. Really actually do it!).
"Don't just pose. Really do it." One can easily say "I forgive you" without meaning it. The same pose can just as easily happen internally: "I forgive him". And the charade might be ongoing ("I forgave him"). We can carry a pose, a charade, forever ("I'm a wonderfully forgiving person").

But there is, of course, an enormous difference between rotely saying/thinking the words and actuality. That's an awfully sucky term - "actuality" - but human language doesn't offer a rich palette in this realm. Genuineness is not an issue humans consider much, so our language is parched for terms. Much as eskimos have an abundance of words for snow, humans have many terms for artifice, charade, and empty drama, but what shall we call the real thing? "The Real Thing" is an empty placeholder, an expedient means of pointing to something unnameable. "Actuality" sounds crisply scientific, but it's as vacant as a variable...and truth should be more than a variable.

This distinction is more fundamental than you'd imagine, because consciousness is bifurcated along precisely these lines:
There are two aspects to consciousness: cognition and perceptual framing. We know an enormous amount about cognition, but few of us spend even a moment considering perceptual framing. It is assumed that external factors frame our perspective for us; that it's not under our own volition.

We'd freely acknowledge that a given city block is experienced through completely different eyes, depending on, for example, whether we've just been kissed by a new loved one or been ditched by a previous one. But we assume we must wait for external circumstances to provoke emotions for perceptual shift to occur. There is no reason for this assumption. All frames are available in any moment. We just get lazy, and forget that we can actively choose.

We are wrong about both, assuming that we own our thought stream - though we obviously do not (just try to not think about the thing you're currently worried about) - while we assume our perceptual framing is imposed from without - though it patently isn't (you can't make me angry, only I can make myself angry). Our confusion about the operation of our own minds is a central problem.
I can muster the thought "I forgive you" regardless of my actual view. Genuine forgiveness is a separate action, and it's not verbal. Neither a thought nor an utterance, it's a doing. It's pure reframing. It's hard to talk about. It's just a faculty we have, though we often forget we have it.

There's another pesky factor. We confuse the action of actual forgiveness - the reframing - with anticipated associated emotion. There's a bag we carry around with us; a burdensome dramatic obligation. We can't simply forgive; first we must perform a movie scene. You know the one, where a grave-looking person stares with gloomy concern out of a rainy window while cellos moan. How can I possibly forgive him?

Poignant! But let's give that cinematic layer the easy dismissal it deserves, being nothing but indulgent bullshit. You're not in a movie. You can forgive someone as effortlessly as you can manufacture the empty thought "I forgive him"....but it involves a separate faculty. It's a shift rather than a thought.

Try it! Pick someone easily forgiven. Not your ex who said that horrible thing, or that old boss who fired you. Don't get ambitious! Think of someone more readily forgivable, and do it. I'll wait!

Don't just say the words. Feel the shift. Experience the minuscule sensation of blissful unwinding, like a knot being untied. Our bodies are programmed to reward certain choices - sleeping, eating, procreation....and forgiveness is an oft-forgotten item on that list. Why is it forgotten? Because we assume we must play out a movie scene, and it likely doesn't jibe with our current plot arc at any given moment. The fake, ridiculous, self-indulgent cinematic experience - me up there on that screen! - is, for most people, unquestionably primary. So if one fancies oneself to be in a movie, forgiveness requires a laborious rewrite.

Real forgiveness is simple and instantaneous, but it's nothing like blandly uttering the words. It's a foundational shift, easy though it is. If you want to play with this function, and explore reframing, check out the previously linked post about forgiveness.

But let's go beyond forgiveness to a real world framing example that involves interacting with another person rather than silent machinations in the corridors of your private mind.

You run a business with a critical, terrifying problem. Your tech guy crashes on the problem tirelessly, finally coming to you, eyes ablaze, with an impossibly brilliant solution. He needs to share the details, because it could only be properly appreciated if you really understoodd what he did.

That's him. Now let's swing the focus over to you. You're not a tech person. You barely understand what he's saying. Every cell in your body wants to tell him to shut up, go away, and just hook it up, now.

Let's call that management choice #1: The Imperious Asshole.

There's a second management choice: The Patronizing Asshole. You recognize that he's bursting at the seams, viscerally needing to spike the football by explaining what he did. He will resent you if you dismiss him. It will harm your relationship and deflate his morale. So you steady your gaze at him, restraining your eye roll, and nod your head engagingly as he recounts his actions, punctuating the tech lecture with eager "uh-huhs!" When he's done, you express your astonishment re: his brilliant genius, wait a couple beats, then rub your hands eagerly together saying "Well, let's hook it up, then, shall we?", patting him on the shoulders as you retreat to your office to let this annoying, overheated little geek do his thing.

There's also a third choice, which would never occur to most managers. Actually listen to the guy. Try to understand, and genuinely share his enthusiasm - not just for the fact that a solution was reached, but for what he actually accomplished in solving it. Make an effort to get a genuine sense of what he did and share his moment. This involves shifting your attention momentarily away from the big problem stewing in the gurgling acid pit of your managerial stomach. Shift to his view and be an engineer for a sec, not a manager, even if this is a realm where you're tenuous and thus vulnerable, and must allow yourself to be lectured to by your institutional inferior. You'd feel much more comfortable; more secure; more yourself by interrupting him to tell him (more or less bluntly) to shut up and just go hook up the fucking thing. But you don't. You shift over to his world, his framing. You roll with it.

#1, The Imperious Asshole, maintains his perspective tenaciously, and would snarl at the suggestion that he do otherwise. As Manager, he occupies the center of the circle. Other people must shift to share his perspective, not vice versa. This, sadly, feels to him like privilege.

#2, The Patronizing Asshole, is just as tenacious in his frozen perspective, but goes through the motions. He follows a flowchart any dumb computer could obey:
#3 doesn't have a name. "The Real Thing"? "Actuality"? "Humanity"? The manager reframed - amid a crisis, too, which is extra hard given that humans abandon their values under duress. You can't name what he did. It's not something taught in business school. You can't devise a procedure to accomplish this. It's the thing computers (or people who act like computers) can't do.

Reframing is the thing computers can't do.

There's a new wrinkle these days. Managers try to add genuineness into the mix. Like a powder. They recognize (blurrily) the shortfall I'm describing, and try to fix it via extra conscientious patronization. Let's call it meta-patronization. "PLEASE DON'T THINK I'M PATRONIZING YOU," the manager pleaded, patronizingly. It's just a minor subroutine to add to the flowchart - Patronization_Erasure.

This sort of thing is a natural outgrowth of the thinking that makes corporations design products to power up saying "Hello, Jim, how are you today?" It's a way of having computers - and people who act like computers - simulate better, to hastily patch over the sticky wicket of authenticity. Authentic authenticity is scarily unthinkable, whereas contrived Authenticity-Seeming is more viable. You can develop and procedurize and test it.

Monday, November 30, 2020

Another Perspective on Anti-Maskers

I'm taking another stab at this.

Blue collar guys take health risks with reckless disregard because they feel tough, and it's their job. Reckless disregard becomes their default. They don't read safety instructions and don't agonize over the health risks of chemicals, coal dust, etc.. They just get it done. And we're grateful to them. You and I are far too delicate for exploratory strolls around our own septic tanks. We call less delicate guys for that stuff. We could not live without them.

These are the guys who stood atop the toxic mound of smoldering plastic on 9/11, digging for bodies. We deemed them heros. I certainly was not there with them. After one whiff from afar, I high-tailed it out to Long Island to preserve my delicate lungs. Thank heavens for guys who don't sweat such things; tough guys unrestrained by delicacy who actually get stuff done.

Masks strike them as silly overreaction. As the guys we outsource our risks to, they're used to the rest of us behaving like delicate ninnies. But this time's different. This time we're furious about their recklessness, because this time it affects us negatively.

We've turned on them, suddenly demanding that they behave conscientiously; prudently; carefully. We need them not to act like the sort of brutishly ignorant low-class baboons who'd dig for our bodies below smoking rubble or fight our wars or dive into our septic systems. Now that we have skin in the game, we've betrayed our true feelings, and we're the awful ones, not them. They've been consistent this whole time.

If the virus had a >25% death rate - something immediately tangible - these guys would be religious about masks. But it's a minuscule fraction of that, so this seems like yet another thing they'll blithely survive (or won't), along with the dry cleaning chemicals, the transmission lubricants, and the pipe sealing chemicals whose effects they stoically ignore. Just another vanishingly small risk freaking out the delicate classes. But this time, we're demanding that they behave like us.

Yes, a virus is different, due to the network effect. But that's awfully subtle. And these guys overlook subtle risk explanations every damned day, with our staunch encouragement - and even celebration. We love their can-do perspective when they fix our cars and plumbing and septic tanks. We idolize them when they become war or disaster heroes. But the moment their attitude affects us, we find them stupidly insufferable.

Unsurprisingly, these guys aren't super-appreciative of our flip. It makes them dig in. It makes them vote for people like Trump, who give voice to their indignation.

Don't expect people to self-repair to accommodate you

More postings labeled "right whispering" (trying to explain conservatives to liberals).

Maybe We Should Investigate Trump

In my posting "Maybe Don't Lock Him Up", I made a case for not "extending the lease on a madman's inhabitation of our psychic space" via exhaustive public investigation that would make the next few years more "All Trump, All the Time."
"As much as we'd all thirst to investigate the Trump administration - and as convincing as some of the arguments to do so might be - in the end, not investigating would better serve the greater public good.
The great Rick Wilson dissents convincingly:
"Some people believe we should enter a new era of comity and goodwill... We should offer a soft landing and a gentle exit from the Trump cult, right? To this, I must issue a hearty 'fuck no'.
Only exposure, pain, humiliation, and (inshallah) incarceration will lead to a moment of reckoning for the GOP. It should start at the top and work down from there. ...."
I can't escape the foggy impression that there's a means for Trump and his enablers to have due comeuppance without extending his chokehold on our national attention. But I'm foggily unsure how that would happen. Like all of us, I'm numb and exhausted. I'm pretty sure Rick's right, and I'm pretty sure I'm right, and perhaps there's a way to thread the needle. Don't ask me how, but I'll let you know if anything pops up.

Thursday, November 26, 2020

Liberation and Addiction


Reframing is liberating. If life teaches us anything, it's that freedom is not achieved by optimizing conditions "out there". It's a matter of how you view it all from "in here." Imprisonment is a state of mind, so liberation lies in the reframing.
Leave a person in a quiet room, and he might meditate and one day leave in a state of vast peace. Put some bars on the window and the same person might decay into a debilitated wreck.
Since liberation requires reframing, an effective Messiah would need a flair for inducing shifts of perspective. And comedians are mini-Messiahs. They make us reframe a little. Jokes hinge on surprising shifts, and surprise is reframing (you can't shift perspective without surprise, and you can't surprise without inducing a shift of perspective). Major shifts are transformative, but minor ones provide a laugh and a lift. And maybe more than that. If you're stuck in a humorless frame of mind, a well-aimed laugh can really liberate. Suddenly it's a new universe, a new life, a new everything. It's all fresh.

Have you ever had a peak experience where everything felt completely fresh? That's the aftermath of a fundamental shift of perspective. You may not even fully notice. Liberation is vast yet subtle. Our human adaptability gobbles up reframings effortlessly. And it yearns to do so. This process must be constantly fed. As the song says, "I need a miracle every day." Reframing is liberating, and liberation is miraculous.

People suppose, wrongly, that the world dictates their perspective for them. This meta-framing (i.e. framing of framing) sticks. We feel like the victims of an oppressive, irritating world, comically/tragically failing to realize that it was entirely our doing. We chose to view it as such...and got stuck in that view.

Consider the crazy phrase "You're making me angry!" It strikes people as reasonable, but can anyone really make you angry? Can anyone make you anything? You own your perspective; your placement of attention; your conclusions.

You probably decline to engage with raving crazy people on the street. This disengagement stems from how you frame them, and yourself. Their ravings persist, often quite loudly, but you choose not to tune in or be triggered. You have that choice. You are the director of your attention; the producer of your inner experience. You, and only you, frame it. That's your freedom, and the exercise of this freedom is liberating. You only need to remember that you can.

Isn’t it interesting that some people rarely get angry while others remain permanently so? The outer reality is no different. Neither lives in a perfect world, free from abrasions and oppressions. They've just chosen different ways to frame it all. The overarching happiness level of your life - its tone - is a choice you once made (and continuously act to preserve).

Recognizing your underlying freedom is, itself, a liberating shift of perspective. It’s the key to the kingdom. It’s like the proverbial genie-wish for lots more wishes. And since one only feels free while exercising one's freedom, reframing must be an ongoing process. 

The Darkness of Frozen Perspective

Unfortunately, some people - hell, nearly all people - are rigidly stuck. And that's a big problem. Frozen perspective accounts for nearly all human darkness.

Here we are, coddled on a gorgeous planet full of life-giving oxygen, water, sunlight, food, and rich action to explore; possibly the only speck of color and comfort in a vast, dark, empty, airless universe. Those of us living in the First World are ultra-comfortable, ultra-entertained, ultra-safe, and enjoy all human knowledge, art, and entertainment - plus instant planetary communications - via a slab of glass in our pockets. Among our most vexing problems are an obscene surfeit of food and personal possessions. The only way to overlook our fantastic good luck would be to skew perspective and lock ourselves down tightly in that skew.

And we do. Oh, man, we do. Having forgotten that we choose our perspective, we find ourselves rigidly stuck. We forget that we control this thing (reframing's like a forgotten cell phone feature), so we flail and suffer, fake-mourning the fake-absence of our omnipresent definitional human faculty. Intentionally directing our attention to frame our inner experience in any of a multitude of ways is the thing humans do, just as fish swim and birds fly. That's why it's so seldom discussed or practiced. Fish don't contemplate swimming - though surely the more neurotic ones torture themselves by thinking "If only I could swim!" as they slice smoothly through the water.

Shifting perspective, aka reframing, is literally the easiest thing in the world. You don't even need to worry about shifting to a "better" perspective. In the large view, perspectives are neither good nor bad (the one you're currently inhabiting always seems best...until the moment you shift, as anyone who knows an ex-smoker or new religious convert will readily confirm). A shift - any shift at all - yields liberation. Your old perspective was not the problem. The problem was that you got stuck in it.


It's not even that shifting is so great; it's more that freezing's awful. We’ve devised a familiar term for frozen perspective: Depression (see link for full explanation; this post is long enough as-is!).

Here's a huge surprise: all the familiar depression symptoms arise even when perspective freezes on fantastic loveliness. Very advanced meditators discover that sitting in a lump all day enjoying gushing fountains of internal bliss looks unsettlingly similar to sitting in a lump all day ruminating over a romantic breakup. Or here's a more relatable example: per above, rich people (i.e. everyone in the First World) tend to be bored, jaded, inured, cynical and depressed. The luxurious stability of their circumstance lulls them into a frozen perspective, leaving them, ironically, miserable.

Human bodies don't function well when perspective freezes, regardless of the perspective. When perspective gets stuck, your body gets stuck and your entire world gets stuck. That's what depression is - the world getting stuck. Liberation - the restoration of vibrancy and dynamism and freedom - is eternally available if you'll just remember that you always have the option to reframe in an infinity of ways at any moment.


We may grow quite desperate for liberation - for an escape from the monotonous world we've framed via a monotonous perspective. To rouse ourselves from depression, or to attempt, in our desperation, to stay ahead of the stuckedness, we clutch at straws. Things like booze, drugs, gambling, casual sex, and the other addictions serve as blunt instruments for forcing cheap momentary wisps of relief; of freedom. It's a last resort for those who've lost all interest in re-tuning their own perspective, and find themselves burdened and bored by a burdened, bored existence in an apparently burdensome, boring world.

A violent kick to the head is hardly an apt substitute for real liberation. It's not subtle, nor entirely pleasant, and you must contend with repercussions, rebounds, and a build-up of tolerance. But at least you’re temporarily jarred out of the monotony of a frozen perspective. If this is your sole avenue of relief, it will come to feel like salvation.

In the long run, dependence on kicks to the head just heightens the monotony; the freezing. You're imprisoned more and more tightly as you distract yourself from your innate facility for swapping in a different perspective. Reliance on a head kick reinforces the wrong-headed assumption that perspective is dictated by conditions "out there", rather than by your own choices "in here". So your entire life comes to center on some chosen kick (which becomes, itself, a monotonous freeze). You cling to this means of momentarily shaking things up to glean pitifully faint sniffs of the full freedom you’ve chosen to spurn.

Ernest Hemingway had surprising self-awareness of the catalyst behind his alcohol addiction (though insuficient wisdom to recognize that we frame the world, despite our demented and persistent efforts to coax the world into framing us).

Any Shift Will Do

Let's retrace steps and turn away from that ghastly cul-de-sac. The good news is that while we must shift easily and frequently to remain psychologically viable, it's the shifting that liberates, not the particulars of the impending perspective. Since the freedom's in the shift itself, there's no need to frame things optimally. Phew!

Many of us seek a better world which we hope will improve our perspective...with horrible results. A few of us struggle to instill a better perspective - a more "positive" one - also with horrible results. All this effort is neither necessary nor effective. We don't require an optimal world, an optimal perspective, or a kick in the head. We just need to periodically dislodge ourselves.

The game is about staying fluid. In fact, capricious dabbling - a carefree, child-like exploration of myriad perspective options - is the best approach.

Can You Let Go of Your Mythos?

There's a reason we resist a carefree, ad-hoc approach: It means letting go of certain things. Primarily, we need to come to terms with the fact that our lives are actually not weighty, significant, or dramatic.
This is not a movie. We're raindrops slowly working down windows, not heroic protagonists.
That's the bottleneck, right there. That's why we freeze. We're reluctant (often terrified) to lose our notion of a heroic/dramatic life trajectory; to let go of the impression that we're starring in a movie. No mournful cellos accompanying the sad lonely bits nor timpanis thundering as we accelerate to beat traffic lights. Pay raises don't elevate us, nor do firings crush us. It's all just stuff - happening around us, not to us. We are blithely curious travelers. We are not the protagonists in this drama.

For many/most/all of us, that's a daunting come-down (from a pedestal that was conceptual to begin with: again, this is all framing). But it needn’t be. We just need to understand that letting go of that fluff is ultimately liberating, not deflationary. There's no need to stoke a patently false self-image of primacy and centrality. It was always a lie...and, ultimately, a horrendous burden. It's the most deeply-frozen perspective; the one at your core. Its intransigence underpins much of the darkness, monotony, pain, and, especially, depression.

There's another choice; another perspective. Wear the world - yourself included! - lightly, for greatest enjoyment.

Some will feel repulsed by this timeless advice. Such people are sold on the notion that it's dramatic intensity that makes life worthwhile, failing to recognize that the people urging lightness tend to be extraordinarily well-acquainted with dramatic intensity, so they know whereof they speak. Postings like this - Slogs like this - appear when someone's traveled to the end of those corridors, discovering where they ultimately lead. The heady attractions (aka "temptation") have been amply tasted and deemed a sugar high at best. Meh.

In a Comfortable World, We Must Learn to Remember to Shift

Once again, the shifting itself liberates, not the shift-to arrival point. We always get this wrong, pinning our sensation of liberation on the new perspective...which always seems terrific for a short while (you've finally got it!), until the buzz inevitably fades. Liberation never lasts; that's the core human complaint.

I offer a novel explanation and prescription: Keep shifting, preferably with eager relish. Failure to do so explains why depression - aka frozen perspective - has remained so mysterious (we don't need a bright shimmering pathway out. No "healing". Just stop feeding the monotonous rumination which makes the world seem heavily monotonous! Flip to another perspective!), and, likewise, addiction (having forgotten that you own your own perspective, a cheap kick to the head became your sole liberation; your only way out. Flip to another perspective!).

The foundational human tragedy stems from the mistaken assumption that the world creates our frame of perspective for us ("You're making me mad!"), so liberation (which we always imagine will be permanent next time) must await better conditions and clearer weather. That outlook worked ok for a long while; humanity thrived for millennia under this misapprehension. But now, as poverty evaporates and we grow unimaginably wealthy, healthy, comfortable, and secure, we can no longer coast passively through it all, perspective-wise. The world is no longer the wild, terrifying ride it was. The weather’s nearly always sunny.

Per one of the foundational Slog postings:
After millennia spent desperately seeking cheat codes for this world, figuring the whole while that things would be so much better if only we could purge the illness and lions and warlords, the famines, droughts, and extreme poverty, we've done it! This richest of rich-world countries has expunged the vast majority of its nemeses! Yet look around you. Most of us spend most of our time building needless drama, stress, and sorrow for ourselves. We are far more depressed than any human beings anywhere, ever. We build internal towers of brooding discontent, and spend vast tracts of time lost in tumultuous TV shows and video games and sad songs and memories of pain and worries of loss, desperately seeking out whatever snatches of drama we can find to identify with. Having finally slayed the monsters, we are bored, discontent, and hellbent on creating new monstrous worlds to inhabit as deeply and as continuously as possible.
We coddled moderns are mired in misery, consumed by anxiety and depression (cleverly escaping self-awareness by absurdly framing ourselves as living in Hell; e.g. we bitterly kick every horrible, no-good year in the ass on its way out every New Year's Eve. Lord, how we suffer!). Without the attacking lions, marauding warlords, impending famines, grueling warfare, and all-consuming mythologies conspiring to keep things juicy, we struggle feebly to trick ourselves into unforced shifts of perspective. If the world no longer stresses us into frequent shifting, we manufacture fake stress via our imagination (worries, fantasies, "Rich People's Problems", etc.), entertainments (movies, video games, etc.), or else we simply kick ourselves in the head for a squalid buzz. We traumatize our comfortable, blessed lives (perhaps even willingly wrecking our own beloved country) to raise stakes and experience a jolt; something strong and epic, like in The Old Days.

This explains, among many other things, the Drake Equation. As I once hypothesized:
Scientists keep trying to tweek the Drake Equation to explain the absence of evidence of advanced civilization in the Universe. What is the X Factor obliterating civilizations before they can build Dyson Spheres, capturing the totality of a star's energy, or find a way to communicate over the void with brutes like us?

Comfort and wealth, baby. That's the perilous X Factor. Comfort and wealth.
Spurning Utopia

The stability mankind has always sought has made us miserable, because we still depend on wash cycles of fraught drama to force the shifts our psyches require. In our desperation, we resort to stupid, self-destructive channels for a whiff of liberation. A world of tamed dangers and ample gifts can't coax passive aristocrats into shifting perspective (a lion rushing at your throat will really seize your attention!), so we turn viciously on Utopia, viewing its remaining puny hurdles and annoyances as super-oppressors. Per the princess and the pea, subtler and subtler irritants seem increasingly galling. It all turns to shit while we, at long last, are enthroned in Utopia. That is the current trendy, contagious reframing, and it's already lost its freshness, so the clock's ticking.

Thirsty for deeper, more liberating shifts, we will contrive ever more gripping drama and grievance, even though, as with Dorothy and her ruby slippers, everything we were looking for was right there with us all along.

While You're At It...

Thanks for reading. Tip your bartenders.

Since you've shown the patience to tackle long form explanations, I offer some slightly less fully-baked but still interesting and novel efforts I humbly consider worth your attention:

Mankind has had a devil of a time trying to bottle lightning and get a handle on the most fleeting of phenomena: Epiphany, Eureka, and Inspiration. They've long remained elusive because we've been foggily amnesiac re: our innate reframing ability. Work on that a bit, and the fickle Muses grow more responsive.

A really useful testing ground for reframing is the application of Forgiveness. Not big showy huggy dramatic gestures; I mean the internal process. Shift from seeing it this way to seeing it that way. That's what reframing is, and it's stupendously, maddeningly easy (don't tell yourself a story about having done it. Don't just pose. Really actually do it!).

The most interesting question of all: Who, exactly, is The Framer?

The Visualization Fallacy is a series of extraordinarily wide-ranging postings explaining that framing doesn't just color our world, it creates it. The insight is quite simple, but requires great effort (and lots of words) to explain, because so many false assumptions must be hacked through. This series sheds light, among many other things, on parallel universes.

I sketched it out quickly as it spilled into my brain, and didn't try to polish it much. But I've spent the subsequent three years retracing - organizing, streamlining, and struggling to express it more accessibly (this present effort is by far my best effort to date). But I never returned to the deeper, more speculative parts, because, frankly, I'm way out of my element; over my skis. I'm nowhere near smart enough to properly explain it. Oddly, my insight vastly exceeds my intelligence...and I ain't getting any smarter.

Soothing the Baby fills in the back story of the lifelong "letting go" which led me to realize the primacy (and perqs!) of framing. I trace some of the steps I took to open myself up, as a spiritual child prodigy.

I've linked to it, above, but, in case you missed it: “Why God Lets Bad Things Happen” (Spoiler: it’s ‘cuz we like it that way).

One lifelong perspective gave me a hell of a hard time: the tendency to keep asking myself "What's missing?" Before I began diving into framing, I traced my progress dropping that persistent and highly destructive perspective, finally indexing those efforts in a posting titled "The Evolution of a Perspective".

As I note in that last link, I began to recognize what was going on one night when, in a spectacular (and spectacularly self-indulgent) feat of reframing, I helplessly watched along while my mind kept flipping a wonderful evening into devastation...and then back again. Back and forth. The experience was the genesis for all of this, prodding me into spending twelve years untangling it all. Go back in time and ponder with me "The Deeper Implications of Holiday Blues".

I realize postings like this seem densely cumbersome. It's true that they're written with the expectation of multiple re-readings, but this was actually a feat of simplification. Entire canons of theology and fields of mythos have been distilled into a few down-to-earth paragraphs. As unwieldy and opaque as this may seem, it might be the simplest, clearest explanation of what makes humans tick presented to date. It's way less challenging than spending decades contemplating in a frigid, pizza-less Himalayan cave. And even the shivering swamis never boiled it down and un-knotted it to this degree.

Aspects of these insights have been recognized and explained, piecemeal, by sages over the eons, but, to my knowledge, it's never been so stripped down, de-mythologized, and integrated. It's never been stated without resorting to overblown woo-woo contrivances. I'm not bragging (I'm plenty confused and cloudy and oafish in plenty of ways). I just want you to understand that, despite the lack of self-important weightiness, this is worth consideration. Crap, even that sounded la-dee-dah. Lord, grant me gravitas...

Does reframing seem abstract? Too hard to wrap your mind around?

I understand (and will offer some suggestions, below), but first I need to emphasize that you can't wrap your mind around reframing because reframing is, by definition, an unwrapping. That's why our best stuff - our creative inspiration, eurekas, and epiphanies - evade formulization despite mankind's incessant efforts. It's not like discussing some concrete, material Something. Subjectivity is squishier than objectivity. That's why I've developed this fresh approach to meta-frame it all.

But, sure, let's get practical. If you do nothing but play chess for days and someone suddenly comes along and kicks the board and all its pieces up into the sky, revealing that you've been sitting in a beautiful garden - failing to notice because your attention was so fixated that your chess board had become your universe - that's not a recognition you'd have "wrapped your mind around" prior to the disruption, because it didn't involve movements of knights, rooks, or pawns! There's no "kick the board" move in chess!
That last sentence deserves much contemplation (I have a bad habit of burying ledes). It offers a visceral experience of the foundational shift characteristic of reframing. It serves as a tidy parable for everything I'm saying here.
The board kick was an application of pure Creativity - which always manifests as surprise, which is the hallmark of a shifted perspective; of liberation from the imprisonment of frozen perspective. So here's my question: if such a thing happened to you, leaving you delighted by liberation and freshly enjoying the lovely garden (assuming you'd mananaged to overcome your initial sputtering outrage at the startling disruption), would you think to yourself "Geez, who can I hire to come kick the board for me periodically?" Or would you keep a vial of crack handy as a distracter, filling the role of lunging lion? Or would you, could you, perhaps entertain the option of simply remembering to look up once in a while? It's so much easier; so much cleaner. No fuss; just change your channel for a moment. It's what you should have done, anyway, rather than wait for a kicker to randomly come around! You needn't wither within a perceptual dungeon of monotonous chess, nor force a reset by smoking crack. Just look up sometimes!

This is what this all ultimately amounts to: Look up once in a while! Or, if you're already doing that, look down! Whatever! Be lithe! Recognize your freedom to adopt infinite perspectives! That's the ridiculously simple and easy path of liberation and freedom! It required 4000 words of explanation because, for those who've forgotten that they always possess the option (i.e. 99.9% of humanity), the suggestion sounds like crazy talk. There's no "up" on a chess board! “What, precisely, do you mean by 'up', you deranged lunatic?" [Here's a similar scenario of oblivious rejection of an easy reframing suggestion.]

If you require more concrete examples (there's a dandy one in the second paragraph - "Leave a person in a quiet room...", plus the link in the previous paragraph, plus the entire chess parable...c'mon, reader, you're drowning in examples!), this Slog offers many. Here's one, and here's another. And here's the tale of distraught mourners being immediately restored to their everyday selves via five minutes of some goofy dude stringing words together. It was seamless, so none present consciously recognized what had transpired nor identified a cause. Liberation happens in your head and is projected outward into a revised world, so there's no reason to look for some character hoisting a magic wand. Reframing is an "in-here" move. In its aftermath, the outer world seems fresh. That's the formula - simple but highly counterintuitive.

Special thanks to reader Lynn W for affirming that I'm not annoying/confusing every last person out there with these framing postings.

I'm mortified that they make me look like a kook, or, worse, a prophet. I'm just desperately trying to get through life with less disorientation than during my first half-century. I'd truly prefer to keep this stuff to myself, but when I consider the stars that aligned to evoke these insights - a perfect storm of arcane talents and cruel life lessons - I realize it's unlikely to be so deeply understood and accessibly expressed any time soon, and I might save some hypothetical someone some trouble, confusion, and pain.

If such a person stumbles into this Slog and feels a buzz of truth, I hope they'll take time to really plunge in...and, eventually, surpass my understanding and/or expression. Leap frog straight over my arduous work, relieving me of the burden and embarrassment of serving as the awkward larynx for this wisdom. And then, maybe, step quietly aside, yourself. That'd be best. We're ants.

As I wrote here:
Life consists of a series of revisitations to tired cliches, certain with each new pass that we now really understand them. And so it is with Edison's "Genius is one percent inspiration, ninety nine percent perspiration." That quotation used to conjure up images of wild-eyed fanatics banging hammers in garages in the middle of the night. But it's just a matter of normal people blithely but indefatigably putting out. The Colorado River, etcher of the mighty Grand Canyon, is just some shitty little river. The best among us are shitty little rivers. To me, that's what Edison was saying.

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