Wednesday, August 10, 2022

Reframe or Die: The Shift of Perspective Required to Deter the Coming Civil War

FYI I wrote this before the Trump raid, which only raised the stakes further.

A few years ago I started going on and on about framing, repelling 75% of my readership, most of whom were here for food porn, not to hear the jolly Chowhound guy expound abstract philosophical bullshit.

The rest of you were dubious but patient (thank you). You figured I was indulging some obsessive yaya, even when I linked it in with such practical concerns as human happiness, autism, addiction, depression (here and here), creativity, art, cosmology, theology, and much more.

Well, here is the opening message of this year's CPAC, the most important mainstream American conservative gathering and forum:
I shudder at the prospect of existing in 2022 America without some acquaintance with framing. Because framing is how we got here, and reframing is how we get out of it. Without framing, all we have to say is "THEY'VE ALL GONE CUCKOO!!"

That's how historians will describe it. Everyone went crazy. Or they'll resort to my favorite: "BRAINWASHING!!"

But we're actually living through it, and we know that our MAGA friends and neighbors, who were always super nice people (just don't ever talk politics!), are still entirely themselves...aside from the spin they swallow and the talking points they regurgitate.

I know baseball superfans who hang up phone calls by hollering "Go Cubs!" They have not been brainwashed, and they haven't gone crazy. It's just a Thing They're Into. Everyone's got a Thing, and everyone's allowed their Thing, and this, believe it or not, is just another Thing, exactly like that, even though it's gotten wildly out of hand and threatens existential danger. My mom smoked in bed, which was also legit perilous, but it wasn't that she was a psychotic arsonist. It was just one of her Things.

None of this is deep. The Things are shallow, regardless of their volume level (don't confuse loudness for depth). It's all, in the end, like baseball fandom. All a stance; a pose; a trend; a game. And our choice of a Thing is a fundamental human right. Everyone gets to fixate as they'd like. If you imagine it would be better if you could restrain someone's Thing, because "they're wrong", that's even more fascistic fascism than the very worst MAGA. In fact, presumption of moral superiority and behavioral control is a big part of what provoked all this.

But here's why I'm posting: do you understand, yet, in light of the history we're living through, why I've been stressing framing? Why I've been encouraging people to foster a more supple perspective? It helps you to understand (and perchance empathize with) people who seem to have lost their rockers. Baseball fans and proudly self-described "Domestic Terrorists" and all the rest are just playing. It's not deep. None of this is deep.

So what do we do, on our end?

First: don't turn real people into cartoons just because they wrap themselves in two-dimensional credos and fascinations. Everyone is as multi-dimensional as you are, so don't make the category error of confusing a person with their label, even if they voluntarily swaddle themselves in the label, scream the label, and wave the label in your face. That's a failure of perspective on your part. And that's what leads to civil war.

Don't imagine you don't play your part. Civil wars arise when righteous-feeling people shut down their empathy. Everyone in a Civil War feels righteous and sane, though no one actually is (objectifying Others into labels is neither righteous nor sane). If you feel wholly righteous and sane, and if the other side seems inhuman, then you're the bad guy. It's you sending us over this cliff.

Many of the MAGAs are NICE PEOPLE. If you don't know any, personally, shame on you for your insularity. And whoever you are, you're supporting awful stuff. As a Centrist, I see the gamut clearly. The extreme right's going Fascist, but the extreme left's going Stalinist just as fast. Each clearly focuses on the opposite side's awfulness while remaining willfully oblivious to the excesses of their own side's extreme. That is how Civil War happens.

It's hard to parse the full toxicity of the extremists on your own side. It is possible, however, to shift perspective and see things through other eyes. You just have to want to. And you should, because everyone frames a different world and each of us owns a universal remote control allowing us to easily (easily!!!) inhabit any other worldview.

If you can achieve some detachment from your habitual worldview, and see how it involves objectifying others - i.e. dehumanizing them - you'll be in position to spot your own atrocities. At that point, the goal is to resist crumbling into deflated despair and to redouble appreciation and enjoyment of the brief residency you've been granted on this colorful oasis of a planet - generously stocked with free oxygen, water, and sunlight - along with all the other loonballs, who, from this framing, you can love and tolerate despite their Things.

Also, while you're tinkering with your internal processes and expanding your purview and working to conceive every last human as human, also fight like hell to preserve democracy - most usefully by uniting, temporarily, with groups/demographics/individuals who you may otherwise not totally love, but who share your alarm. Coalitions require grown-up strategy and compromise, neither of which comes naturally to blinkered selfish aristocrats and narcissists. It's a test!

Things will need to get much, much worse before most people (even most Slog readers) regain perspective and re-humanize The Other, i.e., re-frame. You’ve surely noticed that as spines stiffen, we make it harder for the Other to sympathize (consider how bad that can get; consider Jews and Palestinians, then circle back to us and muster some humanity!). The road ahead is perfectly clear to anyone watching thoughtfully. Seeing where the road leads, we could shift perspective right now. Most refuse to budge perspective until our world blows up. Why wait for that?

Some people can spot a doomed chess position from a mile away. Others must hear "Check" hollered a bunch of times and see one player turn frowny. Still others need to actually hear the word "Checkmate".

It's frowny time right now. And I never wait for "checkmate". In fact, as a child, I made a deliberate effort to remind my future self not to dawdle around a solved maze.

Tuesday, August 9, 2022

Creativity and Empathy in Business

A friend runs a brewery. It's successful, but what he really wants is to open a second location; an intimate tap house with live music. Ideally it would serve beer brewed back in the mothership, but he has a business partner with no interest in such an endeavor. So my friend would need to open this venue on his own, which would mean buying beer from his own brewery at full price. Ugh.

In his mind, he's trapped. But my mind roils with possibilities. There are always creative solutions. If you frame your world as chock-full of potential alternative routes and workarounds, that fosters a spaciousness of perspective which really kindles creativity.

As inspiration, I told him this story:

I own some "junk" silver as part of my coin collection, and I didn't want to bring it with me when I relocate abroad. But I don't want to sell it now because silver's price is currently at a low. So I contrived an offer and emailed it (Subject: "Potentially Saving Your Life") to a friend. After explaining my situation, I wrote:
Can you stow it for me in your basement? If your house is burglarized or burns down, it would fall under your homeowners policy, and I'll eat your (entire) deductible.

If society devolves into a hellscape where only precious metals have value, TAKE IT AND LIVE! IT'S YOURS!

If not, when silver prices rise, I'll ask you to sell it and transfer the $$ to me, minus enough for a very nice dinner for you and your wife.
I'd turned a rather difficult "ask" into a good deal for him. The hellscape scenario might strike you as a longshot, but millions of people hold a cache of precious metal just in case. It's not nutty, it's prudent. Protecting your family means planning for bad scenarios.

And paying the deductible was also meaningful. Deductibles are eternal bitter pills. Between the two, I was offering a solid dose of peace-of-mind. And I could wait as long as I wanted for a nice high silver price, because, the moment we sold, the peace-of-mind would vanish. So the longer the better, from his viewpoint!

There is always a way to conceive and fine-tune incentives to get what you want, if (and only if) you're empathic - i.e. able to reframe from your own needy grabby selfishness to see the world from the perspective of the other guy. Load the other party up with value, even more than strictly necessary. Load and load full-heartedly to your outer limit of feasibility. The key to getting what you want is to fully apply your generosity.

My friend turned down the offer, fwiw. I understood why; I hadn't considered everything (e.g. homeowner's insurance might not cover it). Fine. I'll sell the silver now and take the loss. I stay lithe (also: SIGA is currently at $24).

Sunday, August 7, 2022

All A Game

I noted last time that...
Most people are very tightly gripped by the hoo-haw of swirling drama they opted into, suspending disbelief to orchestrate the most thorough possible immersion. No one's born a diehard Yankee's fan. One starts with mild interest, and eventually voluntarily works oneself into a crazed froth where absolutely everything hinges on playoff results. Baseball's just a game, sure, but we can easily will ourselves to forget that. And everything on this planet - even your most sacred and meaningful stuff - is like that. It's all a mere game you chose to invest in. This is a light world for light entertainment in which we invest - to enhance the emotional ride - to the nth degree. But, in the end, every bit of it is "just a game".
We get it with baseball. Even kooky die-hard fans whose cars are plastered with team stickers, who never miss a game, and who live or die based on final scores will readily admit, with a dopey smirk, that, sure, it's just a game.

But how about your mortgage payments? When the Yankees lose, nobody comes and takes your house away. The consequences are steeper, so the stress and fear level seem more appropriate. It's no game!!!

Unless, that is, the whole living-in-a-house thing is also a game. And that, I fully understand, is a much harder sell, though, yes, that, too, is ultimately a game.
You'll be fine. You'll find another living space. It might suck. You may be uncomfortable for a short or long while, and you may need to undergo things you'd previously declared Unacceptable.

But the universe hardly heeds such declarations. In fact, again and again over the years, it's inflicted upon you the Unacceptable, yet here you are, perfectly fine. It escapes our attention (because it would interrupt our willful suspension of disbelief) that every happy regular person is a survivor of multiple encounters with the supposedly Unthinkable. So maybe the problem is in those silly red lines we draw rather than in our outcomes.

Anyway, you'll live in this house, or some other house, or a homeless shelter, or a sleeping bag in the woods. You and your kids may cry and gnash your teeth, but it will all play out while swathed in delicious life-giving oxygen and sunlight on the only colorful and salubrious world, full of dynamic action, in a vast dark cold vacuous instantly-deadly static universe.

But what about bona fide tragedy, e.g. your kid (god forbid) getting cancer? I gently tackled that in one of my more provocative postings, "Why 'God' Lets Bad Things Happen" (keep that page open in case you read all the way through this posting and feel you need more). Now I'll tackle it a bit less gently.

First, you have to trust me on this: I've found (and been corroborated by those who've spent their lives working at lucid dreaming) that while we remember dreams as thin, sketchy experiences, they're not that way at the time. The thin sketchiness is in our poor recollection, not in the original experiencing. The dream world is as real-seeming as ours while we're in it, even though its operating laws are a bit different (e.g. you can fly, events are less linear, and time flows less smoothly).

The following comes with a trigger warning. It may spur disorientation because you'll realize, with gnawing discomfort, that it's true; this is something you've known and forgotten tens of thousands of times. So it's a surprise that packs a powerful punch of deja vu:
Every morning, when you open your eyes, you leave behind loved ones.

Do you mourn? Do you try to get back? No. You trudge blithely into the bathroom and pee.

Strong suggestion: read (or re-read) this.

Saturday, August 6, 2022

Don’t Stuff a Rising Threshold

I wrote last year about the Sanskrit term satchitananda, which has perpetually been tough for swamis to define. You may have heard of a celebrity guru by that name, but he didn't coin it, he just copped the term, which dates back millennia.

I offered the word "bulletproof". Modern English coughed up this gem, and no serious swami would quarrel with its suitability. FWIW, I retconned some of the writing in this extract:
Once you begin to realize that you're here to pretend you're in a dramatic narrative - you've essentially been playing a role in a movie, raptly viewing yourself on-screen in real time - you no longer have reason to inflict stress and suffering on yourself. Such is the power of reframing. You're bulletproof!

With less sense of embroilment and stakedness (the "attachments" Buddhists keep going on about), the world seems less enthralling. You no longer get bent out of shape from needing things to go any certain way. It’s all mild entertainment, a Disney ride despite the horrors and heartbreak. It’s all worn lightly. It’s like serenely walking home from a horror film.
Meditate enough (I use this very stripped-down system, and strongly suggest skipping the rest of the web site) and you will become bulletproof.

Here's the surprise about gun shots to a bulletproof chest. Even if you deflect them - ala Superman or a cop wearing kevlar - the bullets still really hurt.

Bulletproof does not mean numb. You feel pain. You just don't suffer from it. Suffering stems from the stories we tell ourselves about pain (present or imagined), not from the pain itself. Pain is compulsory, while suffering is optional. So here's something to bear in mind:

As you settle into satchitananda, there's a compulsion to act like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day. Whoopie, nothing can touch me! You tightly pack the fantastically expansive space. As your threshold rises, you fill it in with work and commitments and stress. Much more of those things than would normally be viable.

It works ok if you're working for a higher purpose. Helping people. Being of service. This is how useful change happens. You'll be consumed in the process like a charcoal briquette - i.e. "leave it all on the field" - but it's a noble endeavor.

It's problematic, though, if you take this course while mired in the banal American grind. Running a business. Aspiring. Hustling.

There are levels of pain no quantity of morphine can touch. There is a point where the pain from deflected bullets aggregates into bona fide trauma. You remain peaceful, disengaged, and bulletproof, but you are torturing your mute, obliging body. This is self-cruelty even though you feel fine where it counts.

Most people are very tightly gripped by the hoo-haw of swirling drama they opted into, suspending disbelief to orchestrate the most thorough possible immersion. No one's born a diehard Yankee's fan. One starts with mild interest, and eventually voluntarily works oneself into a crazed froth where absolutely everything hinges on playoff results. Baseball's just a game, sure, but we can easily will ourselves to forget that. And everything on this planet - even your most sacred and meaningful stuff - is like that. It's all a mere game you chose to invest in. This is a light world for light entertainment in which we invest - to enhance the emotional ride - to the nth degree. But, in the end, every bit of it is "just a game".

We grip tightly (again: just to enhance the emotional ride) on many levels, mostly unconscious. So when we first experience satchitananda, it's only from the outermost layer. You're still prey, under the hood, to fraught grippy neediness, even having relaxed and surrendered a bit.

If you maintain your meditation practice, satchitananda will bake in deeper. In time, you'll assume it's complete saturation. But it's not. It's a few percentage points. Your experience of the world has become so different from most people's that you imagine vast transformation when it's really just been a quick haircut.

So if you subject yourself to more and more gunfire due to faith in your bulletproofness, you will create - beyond the body trauma I described above - unconscious trauma in the parts of your psyche not yet saturated with satchitananda. Your unconscious grippy artifacts may be quietly freaking the fuck out. Yikes.

That's the main problem, and it must be handled. This is where self-love comes in. I'm not a fan of self-love. I grew up among severe narcissists in a country that tends strongly toward narcissism. I have the tendency, myself, though I've been Clockwork Orange-ing it for so long that it's a pathetic stunted whimper rather than a monstrous roar. So it takes a lot of pivot for me to recommend self-love. Most of us need self-love like the Sahara needs sand.

But whatever you've done to raise a threshold - or if a threshold has risen spontaneously - you must take pains not to infinitely pack infinity. In the case of satchitananda, you must methodically manage the pain level in those parts beyond the halo of deep peacefulness. Don't load up your peace with strife, even though peace is vast and strife is illusory. There are levels of pain no quantity of morphine can touch

I'm describing a fairly common predicament, per this posting's title, "Don’t Stuff a Rising Threshold", though I chose the most arcane possible example (satchitananda is not something most people experience beyond brief moments, aka "peak experiences").

Normally I choose relatable examples to ensure accessibility. Not this time. But I invite you to extrapolate this advice to more relatable realms. Two examples:

John Henry

Consider the tale of John Henry, a steel-driving railroad man whose heart exploded trying to keep pace with the mechanical engine designed to replace him.

John Henry was no weakling. John Henry was mighty. He was great. John Henry had a lot of heart. Just, alas, not infinite.

Heating the Ocean

Don't ever try to heat the entire Atlantic Ocean.

Wednesday, August 3, 2022


You can get far in life by simply nibbling at the serendipity.

A tenet of Nano-Aesthetics

Monday, August 1, 2022

Stravinsky, Nijinsky, and the Origins of Priss

I'm digging deeply into Stravinsky right now. His big three ballets: Firebird, Petrushka, and (especially) The Rite of Spring were brazenly provocative, deemed little more than noise when first premiered (the latter incited a riot). But Igor won in the end. These three pieces have baked so deeply into Western art that they're like Stairway to Heaven - at this point, one needn't ever have heard a single Zeppelin tune to effortlessly follow along.

They're called "ballets", but that's just a proposal from the composer. Sort of like if I wrote a movie screenplay and typed "Blasé Tuesday: a Film by Jim Leff" on the cover. It's not a film, it's a piece of writing until some dude with a camera shows up. Luckily, Stravinsky had the whole package worked out from the get-go with a choreographer, the immortal Vaslav Nijinsky.

In a previous discussion of dance, I griped about how dancers and choreographers mostly follow a karaoke approach, layering terribly clever and difficult presentation atop music which serves as mere wallpaper. As a musician, it makes me roll my eyes.

I mentioned that Jerome Robbins strikes me as a full-fledged musician. He didn't erect visual presentations atop audio backdrop; he understood music with a musician's sensibility, and his choreography was as musical as the music itself. Pure magic!

You can add Nijinsky to the small group of true choreographers (find a dvd of "The Diaries of Vaslav Nijinsky" if you can; here's Roger Ebert's swell review). His original choreography for Rite of Spring was restored in the late 1980s by the Paris Opera Ballet and by the Joffrey Ballet, and it's great. Here's Marie-Claude Pietragalla of the Paris Opera Ballet terrifying the bejesus out of you:

Credit Nijinksy for genius choreography and Stravinsky for genius composition. But check out Pietragalla, revealing the raw soul of dance. 

This is wildness - pagan and primordial rites from the woods of ancient Russia. She's not depicting wildness - seeming wild - she is that. 

For contrast, here's the Joffrey Ballet performing the Nijinksy version in the same year, demonstrating why 1. they're great, but 2. dance is considered prissy affectation by most of the public (nobody would ever use such a word to describe Pietragalla's performance). I've cued it up to the same portion, and you can see the Joffrey's skillful and talented lead performing the movements with wonderful grace, but she's seeming wild, not being wild. A depiction of wildness ("this time it's me!"), not the real thing. 

She depicts Nijinsky’s depiction. A photocopy of a photocopy. Feh.

Naturally, snarky cognoscente are largely nonplussed by Pietragalla's performance. I contributed this comment beneath the YouTube video:
To all who think Pietragalla is less than awe-inspiring here: You're demonstrating the problem with dropping the acculturated trappings and manners of ballet to utterly inhabit the wildness of such a character (rather than skillfully and tastefully depicting that wildness, as seen in the Joffrey version): the dancers, critics, and audiences who inhabit the ecosystem of acculturation will icily insist that she's doing it wrong.

There is no trace, no whiff, of a wasp-waisted lady-in-leotard at the barre in Paris starchily plying dainty pliés with tight hair bun and haughty countenance. Gone. Wiped clean. Here, instead, is a pagan primordial presence from the ancient Russian woods. The actual thing.

And these f-ing people want their starchy French lady.

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