Saturday, April 07, 2018

The Plural Of Anecdote JUST MIGHT BE Data....

Reality is always anecdotal.
-John Michael Greer

If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.
-Sir Isaac Newton

I don't often piggyback off John Michael Greer. Quite frankly, the man intimidates me. Not in any personal way...of all the people living or dead to share a park bench with, he'd be high on my list. But intellectually, I am as a microscopic bug on this man's least chest hair.

This week, though...I have to.

How many times have 'scientists claimed' something as Truth which directly contradicts your lived experience?  Like this, for instance. Did You Know (TM) that MSG, monosodium glutamate, does NOT cause any adverse health effects? This has been "proven" repeatedly, and so if you are one of those people for whom MSG does cause adverse side effects, I regret to inform you that you are either crazy or you do not exist.

Eva's run into this from our otherwise excellent doctor. Because Eva lives with mental illness, her very physical issues have often been either minimized or dismissed entirely as 'all in her head'. When she is in the midst of an episode, the doctor WILL NOT take her seriously; when she's clear, suddenly he will. That strikes me as minimizing two illnesses.

So let's talk about what's all in her head. Strangely, it has a lot to do with her knee.

 She has a complex baker's cyst in her knee the size of a golf ball...meaning it's filled with gel and bone chips. Unlike most baker's cysts, there is actually a wall to it. It will not shrink or disappear. 
She has permanent tendon and ligament damage due tri-compartmental osteoarthritis...there are three places where you can get arthritis in a knee, and she has it in all three. It's severe under her kneecap. She would be a candidate for knee replacement, but for her age. She likely has to live with this pain for another five years, minimum. Maybe ten.

All in her head...I have some stuff that's all in my ass.


In 1909, E.M. Forster wrote an almost unbelievably visionary cautionary tale called The Machine Stops. But for the fact the story takes place underground, we're living it today.

The story posits a world in which all 'sensible' human interaction takes place through 'The Machine', i.e., electronically. Firsthand experience is loftily dismissed and comes to be regarded as lunacy; what 'matters' is the exchange of more and more abstract ideas. People live underground, their every whim catered to by The Machine, which eventually is worshipped as a god. Until it breaks down, and as 'civilization' collapses around the main characters, they realize that the surface-dwellers, the crazy, almost mythical people who live outside the influence of The Machine, are the ones who will live.

It's astonishing the technology that Forster predicted in his only foray into science fiction, but even more astounding are the effects he predicted. Before radio was in every home, he somehow anticipated not just TV, the Internet, and Skype, but the fact people would come to rely on machines to do their most basic thinking for them; how people's lived experiences are increasingly dismissed as mere anecdotes and not trusted by the intellectuals of the world. And of course, something I have railed against repeatedly, even as I'm subsumed by it myself: human contact, actual face to face human contact, is increasingly shunned in favour of The Machine your smartphone. Which we barely use as a phone anymore because in the past ten or fifteen years most of us have developed an unholy terror of using our voices.

The disinterest in what is real has happened before. Read Greer above for a deeper treatment, but in essence civilizations move between ages of abstraction and ages of reflection. We are nearing the end of an abstraction age. In such a period we lose trust in what 'experts' say, because what they say largely contradicts our reality. Because the 'experts' are clearly not to be trusted, we become our own experts, whether we are qualified to be called so or not, and we divide ourselves into clans that believe one thing or another (but never both, that's impossible).

It's not either/or, it's both/and.

That's a recurring theme of my life as I have lived it. That is, of course, a succinct and clinical definition of what polyamory is; but even more so, it's a mode of thought that has served me well. Spiritually, it's led me to embrace Unitarian Universalism, which is the most inclusive church-based spirituality I can imagine. Intellectually, it has led me to consider all beliefs maybe not equally valid--I have no time for those who hold a deep belief that people I know and love are not fully human and don't deserve to be treated as such--but equally deeply held. Hateful beliefs are not innate. They are learned, and often drilled into heads. Check out the textbooks in Palestinian schools and it's a little easier to understand how deeply ingrained Jew-hatred is there. Closer to home...whitewashing. At least this has been pulled. But it's only just now that the full horror of the residential school system is starting to be taught. We have been denying the lived experience of First Nations people for generations, and the result has been casual racism and an infuriating nonchalance about the real world conditions that foment crime and despair.

Climate change. I hope I don't count among my readers any deniers, but even among those who affirm anthropogenic climate change, there is a curious reliance on computer models and abstract formulae rather than the lived experience of those directly and already profoundly affected. Instead we turn to study after study that purports to show the reality of climate change. To a certain subset of the population, this is dishonest. Studies don't show reality, they'll say: REALITY shows reality.

And they have a point. A very good point. We with the consensus view need to change our strategy to truly convert hearts and minds.

Drawing on another recent theme of Greer's posts: we're not interested in doing that. We have largely lost the art of persuasion in today's society. Whatever the issue, all sides'  idea of a strong argument often seems to center around hurling insults. You're stupid, we say, as if that ever convinced a single person to change her mind on anything.

Here's a thought. Why don't we actually take the time to listen to those with whom we disagree? All involved might learn something.

See, we've devolved into competing tribes, and so there's no common ground. Common ground is almost a heretical notion, as if Gabriel's breaking bread with Lucifer. And yet, the art of rhetoric is not about instantly converting an atheist to devout Catholicism or a devout Catholic to atheism. It is, rather, about acknowledging what both sides have in common. Only in that way can you even hope to gain allies to your cause, whatever it may be.

I'm as guilty of it on occasion as anyone else. Sometimes I over-rely on 'expert' consensus; sometimes I even shut someone down. I don't have the time or mental energy to confront deeply inculcated racism, misogyny, homophobia or transphobia, all of which seem to be enjoying a dark rise of late, for instance. So I withdraw in a huff to my own, clean, well-lit space, forgetting that hatred is taught, forgetting that what appears to be hatred is often fear and misunderstanding...forgetting my shared humanity.

That shared humanity needs to be an individual and collective focus if we are to survive turbulent times ahead. A house divided against itself will not stand. So go. Get off your computer or your phone and go look out the windows of your house; even more so, look out EACH OTHER'S windows. If you do that, you'll see the world from a slightly different perspective...which can't but enrich your own.

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