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.


vhliv said...

This seems largely right to me, though I haven’t thought of Graham as particularly enigmatic— that strikes me as an inside the beltway assessment that finds its way into columns and such. Graham’s long history as a John McCain booster as well as his rather direct statement that Trump would destroy the Republican Party and Republicans would deserve that fate (not his exact words but near enough for this comment) did suggest a bit more fortitude and a solid commitment to core democratic values of our Republic. That is what gets those that care scratching their heads and talking about possible blackmail etc. Had he talked a different game. Had he been known as a Louis Gohmert ally no one would have batted an eye at where he is now. Your Lincoln Project pals (I like them too, so that is not meant in a backhanded way) would call what Graham has done cowardice plain and simple. It is the journalists who thought they knew him from years of talking to him, as well as the people who took those journalists’ assessments at face value who are the ones confused now.

Jim Leff said...

Thanks for the comment!

The Lindsay Graham enigma is more a social media/cable news phenomenon. I.e. why he's descended into such a cowed sycophant, when he was the one, during primaries, with the laser sharp fix on who Trump was and what he'd wreak.

The question of "what happened to him" strikes me as pointless abstraction. Labels and nametags, from a supposed position of neutral observer (no such thing!). I'm more interested in the framings, which are more fundamental. I know mine (he's a turd), but I'm curious about his, and I think (??) I've come close.

This seemed like the component nobody talks/writes about: his inner experience of it all. I don't like to write about what everybody else writes about, and this struck me as a missing puzzle piece.

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