Monday, July 12, 2010

Windows 1

What would you be willing to do if you were afraid your children would starve?

I've been playing with ways to explain mindsets, trying to find the doorways.

"We're a different breed," RC said. What does that mean? I see it, the functionality in certain times of stress and the way that that has changed our perspective on almost everything else. We are what we are, and we recognize each other. We also recognize those who don't comprehend this world we have lived in. Not only don't grasp it, the way a fish can't understand a rosebush, but think that they are experts, because they have heard so many fishy descriptions.

That's not it either. There is a compulsion to study this "different breed". Little boys play with guns and people study martial arts for decades, but neither of those are indicators that they have the slightest insight into the world they are imagining. The errors, the sometimes incomprehensible misbeliefs are stunning...and as viciously defended as any religious dogma.

People work from who they are. I get that. They strive to understand other people by extrapolating from who they are to who the other must be. (And, not germane to the main point they sometimes do this with breathtaking ignorance not only of the other but of themselves.)

They extrapolate from what they have experienced (social pain or shame) to what they haven't (fear of ego destruction and annihilation). They decide that the problem they have never dealt with (surviving an assault or international politics) is like problems they have dealt with (like algebra). That the skills to put a bullet in someone's head are the same as the skills to put a key in a lock.

I've failed to get people to understand so many times in so many ways. I know, intellectually, that they want two incompatible things: to understand something outside their experience and simultaneously to have all of their preconceptions confirmed. But I keep thinking there might be a way to bring them to the window. So that they can see. Not just see what I see, but so that they can recognize that there are different windows.

"What would you do if your children were starving?" may be a little step. Maybe not. I'm not confident that people who have never been truly hungry, or people who play at fasting as a diversion or who have never smelled someone starving can really understand the question... but maybe they can.

Who would steal? Who would beg? Who would demand and threaten? Who would kill? Kill an animal? Kill a human? Prostitute yourself? Others? Children? If the situation were never going to get better and no one, ever, was going to help you-- you could only help yourself-- what would you do? What would you get used to? Would you get better at thieving and robbing? Get better at killing? Come to terms with it? Turn it, in your head, into the right and noble thing to do? Not a crime, but taking a necessary risk? Would it become a way of life? Business as usual?

Do you recognize a particular kind of criminal here? Looking at it from our weird stories of emotional pain and angst, the behaviors of addicts don't track...


Chris said...

Have you ever met anyone who regards you and your relationship to violence, in the same manner as you regard the people you write about?

Master Plan said...

No maps for these territories. No titles for these posts.

Kai Jones said...

Once when I was a young teen I pretended for an entire weekend that my father had died--as an experiment in grief. It was actually convincingly similar to what I experienced more than 30 years later when my mother died.

I would approach this lesson through guided meditation. I am planning it in my head but I won't type it all out here, as it will be long and maybe more revealing than I want to post online.

Another approach would be to ask students to write a biography of a predator, justifying the predator's choices as reasonable responses to the horrible things they'd endured (e.g., child abuse), and then comparing them to someone who went through the same bad experiences but chose not to become a predator.

Maybe the extrapolation practice could work if they started with someone they know who is extremely self-centered. I mean, infants and toddlers don't think about your rights, don't have empathy, aren't constrained by fellow-feeling or respect; imagine an adult whose emotional development was still on that level.

Tiff said...

I think there's a lot of insight into the psyche -- the true 'self" -- of an individual based on their answer to your question.

Maija said...

Back in my early 20s I worked in a pub frequented by some guys that I guess would be described as a resources predators (non violent, and much milder types than you describe in your post)- car thieves/con men/drug dealers - out for a lark, and completely amoral. I have this memory of having a conversation one day with one of them, and him saying to me "I'm going to try as hard as I can to get what I want. You KNOW what I'm like, so if you fall for it, you deserve it".
He was right - and it was the last time I 'lent' him money!
I am forever grateful for that conversation - it was a great lesson, and has held me in good stead through the rest of my life.

Rory said...

Chris- I assume so. There are an awful lot of things that I'm ignorant about. That's the nature of blindspots.

Sorry, Jonas. I only had about twenty minutes to write this and I forgot the titling part. I'll take care of it.

Kai- Yes. But there is a qualitative difference that I'm trying to map my head around. One is frame of reference. In human imagination, soaring is fascinating, fun, pure freedom... raptor specialists tell me that flying is so exhausting and even soaring demanding that big birds avoid it as much as possible and they fly for food, not fun. Without a frame of reference, it's easy to meditate into a huge field of horseshit. The other problem are the people who visualize dishonestly, without true empathy and telling a story they will like. (Not you, my friend, but it's really common among the people I try to reach.)

Tiff- Lot's of things are just big Rorschach Tests. When reading or hearing responses, it's important to winnow out the question the person chose to hear.

Maija- Exactly. Because of crowding we rarely got new bookings except for person-to-person crimes, so my sample population was more violent than normal, but the underlying attitude was the same.


BTW en route to Colorado right now, stopped at a coffee shop in Utah for access