I read a lot.
This is not meant as a brag or a boast but rather something that has occurred with this addiction I have formed to my tiny black information box called the Iphone. Over the past couple of years I have come to the habit of repeatedly pressing the home button, entering my code and then staring at its bright beautiful screen.
These actions often occur by themselves and I wonder why I am looking at my Iphone, what was it that I definitely need to know? It is at this point that I find myself opening the folder with all my various news outlets of which I read not only one or two, but usually four of them plus a few articles of a magazine.
In the past I would have set aside a specific time to read the news or magazine. I would have sat down in my favorite chair and spent the next thirty minutes to an hour doing nothing else.
With the Iphone however I find myself checking the news in 5 – 10 minute spurts repeatedly throughout the day. Through such tiny yet frequent feedings of my intellect I come to feel as though I have satisfied my addiction only until I find myself pressing the home button again because some random thought passed through my mind and I need to know the answer.
When one reads as much as I do and has studied languages one pays special attention to the types of words that are used. If there is a word I do not understand, I take the time to look it up and examine its parts.
One of these words that I have noticed appearing quite frequently is “solipsism.” The word usually spreads quite quickly when used in a major publication like The New Yorker and soon we will see that word over and over again. I imagine part of this has to do with the news subjects of the day and a specific word just being perfect for the topic. But I also imagine that writers just like to use big, fancy words and when they see a big, fancy word appear in another article it gets added to their list of “ready words,” at the front of their brain and so more easily spills out onto the page.
Lets deconstruct Solipsism! (If you haven’t read Speak American – Fun Lesson in Language you should and will understand my obsession with language.)
Sol = self.
– Spanish – solo
– French – seul
1. the theory that only the self exists, or can be proved to exist
2. extreme preoccupation with and indulgence of one’s feelings, desires, etc.; egoistic self-absorption.
I am most concerned with the second definition.
It has occurred to me that we are all solipsistic. It simply cannot be any other way! We live our own life, have our own experiences and process them through our own unique thoughts.
I cannot see your thoughts anymore than I can see what goes on at the center of the earth. Conversely you cannot see my thoughts either.
As I re-read the definition and examine each word carefully perhaps I am stretching my meaning of Solipsism a bit. I imagine a Zen monk can dispense with feelings and desires quite effectively. However, I think we have no other choice but to be “self-absorbed.” I only have one consciousness and I cannot experience any other firsthand. Even if we take someone who is constantly doing good for others, they do so because in their own mind it pleases them, it is what they wish to do otherwise they would not do it.
Scientists tell us that one of the emotions that separates us from the animals is that of empathy. Yes, I understand we can empathize with others and feel their pain but it is rather weak compared to the emotions of the person with whom we are empathizing. We are still self-absorbed but we can dip a toe or even a whole foot into the minds of others.
It is this talent that I hope evolution will strengthen and fortify. We are quite terrible at it now and I believe that advancement and progress means being able to relate very clearly and strongly with one another.
If you’ve seen the movie Avatar it would be like the natives plugging into their horse which enables them to experience everything the animal experiences.
As I’ve said, we do not do this so well in the year 2012.
I’ve told you I read a lot but I also watch a lot of documentaries thanks to Netflix. I rehash the horrors of war, the pain of the civilians and as my metaphor above states, I “dip my foot in.”
It is at this point I realize just how primitive we are as a species. I realize how quickly we can be convinced to kill. I try to tell myself that the wars I am watching were during a different time, that we are much more advanced and educated now.
I then see another drone strike on the news and read in my social networks that we kill in other nations to “protect our freedoms” and “keep us safe.”
There is no empathy here for the dead. There is not even any inquiry so long as our news tells us the dead were “terrorists.” Our minds do not ask if there were children killed or even what these “terrorists” did to be labeled as such.
We are also apt to simply take sides. If one prefers Israel than a dead Palestinian is no big thing, they were probably a terrorist anyway. If one prefers Palestine than a dead Israeli soldier is just a consequence of the rotten occupation and oppression.
It is during these times that our empathy simply does not exist. We do not dip even a toe into the mindset of those we consider wrong. And in terms of geopolitics, drone strikes, and even all out war, we justify all the death and carnage to whatever slogan the government has told us recently.
Protecting our freedoms indeed.
Well, I really did not mean to get that deep into the meaning of solipsism or take it as far as I have done. I meant to dive into Facebook much more quickly!
Now we have the social network which is simply a small soapbox with the magical powers to reach everyone you have ever known. If we were told we would have this power only 5 short years ago, I imagine that many of us would have more than a bit of stage fright!
What would we say to everyone we have ever known? Would we try to come up with something profound or would we tell a joke?
I think this experience would have been akin to walking out on a large stage with bright lights shining in your eyes so everyone can see you clearly. Only you cannot see your audience’s (family, friends, acquaintances, met once) reactions so perhaps you start off with something light, something funny. Then as you speak more and more you become more comfortable and throw out EVERY SINGLE THING THAT CROSSES YOUR MIND INCLUDING SUBJECTS YOU WOULD BE MORE CAREFUL WITH IF IT WERE AN IN PERSON CONVERSATION AND SOME OF YOU WRITE IT ALL IN CAPITAL LETTERS WHICH IS HIGHLY AGITATING!
Now being an election year and the state of politics being as it is I find more than a few political statements being thrown about online. It is kind of like crack/cocaine; the first time we are a little cautious but as we do it more and more we find ourselves almost to the point of an OD with long rambling posts that simply echo whatever talking points were heard last.
As for me, I have stopped posting anything political or religious in the social networks. I have realized that these people are my friends/family and are in my social network because of this fact. I have no need for each of them to see eye to eye with me politically or religiously. I am always up for a good debate but I just hate to do it online as the tone of the conversation is much more difficult to moderate when so many of our natural social skills have been taken away and we must rely only on the written word and occasional smiley face.
For an ever increasing number in my social network they appear to be going in the opposite direction. The posts have become more direct, more confrontational and much more bellicose.
In our current environment, the moderate tones have been washed away by a deluge of extreme viewpoints all wrapped up in various talking points, statistics and other outright lies. The only moderates I have seen in the past week are quite spineless with their declarations that “All politicians are clowns!”
What we are seeing is not only the advancement of “solipsism” but the eager willingness to let everyone you have ever known know exactly how you feel about subjects that were formerly taboo or at least handled gently.
The Sonorous Solipsist?
As I mentioned above, I do not believe we can be anything other than a solipsist for the reasons previously mentioned. But should we want to evolve and increase our understanding, it would do well to dip that foot into the mindset of someone who completely disagrees with us.
As this can be very difficult for the beginner let me give you a few things to think about.
1. Political affiliation
– Weather Democrat, Republican, Independent or other each group compromises a very large amount of people. Within each group it can be said that there are large amounts of rather intelligent people!
How prideful and self confident we must be to simply think that all of these people are wrong! To make matters worse we judge them not through meticulous study of the issues but rather what we heard on our cable news channel of choice!
We then take these talking points to our social network and repeat what we have heard in effect saying “You are wrong because cable news station X told me Y.” Then, your conversation partner says “No, that cannot be right because cable station Z told me A!!!”
We believe we are actually thinking but in fact we are not. We are simply repeating what someone has told us is true, comparing and contrasting that with another option someone else told us was true and then and thennnnnnnnnnnn
MAKING OUR DECISION BASED ON WHAT OUR FAMILY, FRIENDS, COMMUNITY OR RELIGION HAS TOLD US TO!
Ok, this may not be true for some but it is certainly true for most. I would say that only 15% of the population has shed the barriers of family, community or religion and actually think for themselves. The problem is that everyone is going to think they are part of that 15% who think.
A great example to prove my point is the Red state Blue state separation. If everyone thought for themselves then wouldn’t it make sense that every single state would be a swing state? After a really great convention each state should get a bounce one way or the other as people digest what was said and we should see each state changing from red to blue quite frequently!
But no, red states tend to stay red states and blue states tend to stay blue states. Even if we get down to the micro level with all the gerrymandering (rigging of elections) we see it for what it is. It is the grouping of certain communities who have been told how to think. If everyone thought for themselves than even at this level we should see a bunch of red and blue dots all mingled together.
2. International Experience
– Let’s use Japan for this example. Say we send a couple of Midwesterners to Japan and have them do two things, eat natto and pray in a temple. Almost 100% will not eat the natto because to them it looks bad, smells bad and probably tastes worse. However, almost 100% of Japanese people eat natto. The Midwesterners will not eat it because they have been trained to only like specific foods and will refuse to try something so completely different. If they used logic and thinking, they would know that it is a highly nutritious food and one can actually come to like the taste of it!
But they will never get there, just like in our current political environment, we have simply fortified our own opinions and will only listen to those that agree with us. The Midwesterner will look to his buddies and they will all agree that natto is gross.
As for praying in a temple, some will downright refuse as it is not their religion while others will be respectful and perhaps say a prayer to their own God even though it is in a house constructed for another.
Push come to shove the Christian Midwesterner will have to admit that just about the entire Japanese race is praying to the wrong God.
What is my point here? My point is that we do not compare and contrast very well, we are self-absorbed (solipsistic) and mostly believe in what we were born into, raised with and what our communities and friends believe.
So what do I think personally?
I think this post has gone on quite long enough and I should end it with a bang.
In order to escape from the prison known as self-absorption one of the best things to do is travel. Get out of the familiar go somewhere completely foreign and stay there for a while!
Learn a new language as in doing so the thought process will change!!! The feeling of traveling, as my fellow international friends well know, is that of escaping from a small, musty house to the great outdoors! The senses become incredibly stimulated and without realizing it old biases and opinions start to slip away.
To experience a foreign culture for a great length of time and learning the language is almost akin to being reborn. You have changed and do not remain the same person as when you entered.
And what do these enlightened people become?
These are the people who are not afraid of change, who have had their minds opened! These are people who have adapted to great change and become stronger!
Let us DEFINE Conservative!!!
– Holding to traditional attitudes and values and cautious about change or innovation, typically in politics or religion.
These are the same people who will crash and burn in another culture. These are the people that do not hold passports, these are the people who get upset if you change their vanilla ice cream for chocolate!!!!!
Conservatism means that people want things to stay the SAME! They are afraid of change, afraid of the new, afraid of anything different.
“No, no” they say. “Things are just fine the way they are!”
Things were fine during slavery, things were fine when women couldn’t vote, things were fine when the US was at war for a lie! (Gulf of Tonkin, WMD) If Conservatives had their way we would still be stuck in the Middle Ages as things were JUST FINE THEN TOO!
Being an international person, ie. Global Citizen is incompatible with conservatism by definition. They are not open to the new and should just stay home.
I take that back, they should get a passport, travel and let the metamorphosis take place!
I would say that 90% of the “international” people I have met while living in other countries would be considered “liberal.” They are open to change as proven by their life in another country. They support gay rights and healthcare for those that cannot afford it. They are against war. They have a greater understanding of history. They enjoy learning and experiencing.
I would say the current extremist GOP is against or on the other side of all of these things.
Moving forward and evolving means breaking free of solipsism as much as possible and strengthening our empathy. Pure understanding, compassion and the noble idea that we are all one (we are brothers for you religious folk) should be our final goal.
We cannot reach this goal if everything is fine the way it is now can we.
Liberals are the way forward.
So come ye, one and all to the light. Put away the hatred, the bias and the selfishness.
There is a party that encompasses these things and one that does less so.
I would choose the less of the two evils come November.