Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Why It's Hard To Keep Your Head Together These Days

Why does it really matter if people become more robotized?  What ramifications does it have in terms of their ability to survive?  The truth is that becoming robotized affects people’s states of mind, relationships and behavior in such a way that they and the groups they are in are impacted in a very negative way.  And the most important aspect within the process of robotization that affects people is the ongoing loss of organic blendable continual stimuli in people’s minds.  As a result of this loss, people don’t have the means to hold their senses of self together very easily any more.  People in modern technological society tend to break up into fragments of self, which means they have several different presentations of themselves to the people in their lives.  There is less and less meaningful cohesion in the way they present themselves, because there is less and less coherence in their senses of self.  Rather than feeling like an organic whole, it is as if people today felt like a series of parts that are contingently held together by different fasteners that could be easily removed.  And it is not individual parts that make a person a unique organic entity.  Even if a person has a unique creative gift, that unique gift has to be fed by the experiences that are had by the rest of the self in order to have the material for special creation. 

And more and more  today, people  have to work very had trying to hold themselves together psychologically and trying to prevent themselves from falling apart.  They go to talk therapy, both individual and group, and take medications to deal with the symptoms that create the suffering they are experiencing.  Working so hard to hold themselves together can lead to a need to isolate in order to be able to do it.  At such times, socializing with others can be a great effort.  In a vulnerable state of working on fragmentation, socializing can lead to a sense of losing oneself while trying to relate to others.

And the fragments fight for dominance within each person, having difficulty living with each other.  In a world of fragmented experience with a lot of complex fragmenting mechanical entities - machines, computers and robots - that have no core self, people have a lot of unrelated experiences, develop a lot of unrelated skills, and become a series of unrelated presentations of their senses of self.

Each presentation is comfortable in very different life situations with very different kinds of people.  In such a situation, to form a sustained intimate relationship with another human being means suppressing some of these presentations of self, some of these fragments of the person.  And yet because there is no natural arrangement of dominance among these presentations of self, the suppression can’t and doesn’t last forever.  As other presentations of self arise to the surface of consciousness, the relationships establish by the first presentation under consideration suddenly seem incompatible, inappropriate or boring.  The intimate attachments are broken, and the person tries to find new people with whom to establish closeness.  New people that are more in accord with the new presentation of self that has attained dominance.  This process is repeated over and over as different highly figured fragments of the person rise to dominance.  Eventually, the person begins to realize that nobody really seems to fit with him, and he gives up the search for strong connections.  He lives with shallow interchangeable connections to others.  And mostly isolates.

A robot is not built to create and achieve the strong-bonded connections with others that are the foundation of friendship, marriage, family, tribe, community, and nation.  And without these connections, none of us has a special place in human society.  All of us are simply like interchangeable parts, the kind one would order from a catalog to fix a machine.

In an age when terms like self-actualization are used to describe the inner journey taken by a person who doesn’t have to spend all his time worrying about economic survival, we must be careful not to lose sight of the fact that we are not at the end of this journey meant to be alone.  If our self-actualization leads to such excessive self-definition and such excessive fragmentation into different personas that we are incapable of forming deep-bonded relationships with other people, then something is fundamentally wrong with our life journey.  Robots are fragmented data, fragmented functions, specific events in the external world without organic experience to unify them into a meaningful narrative.  Robots don’t bond with other robots or with people, because they lack the organic blendable continual stimuli to hold themselves together and to hold the encounters they have with people and with other robots together in continual relationships.

Without continual stimuli, there is no sense of self.  Without continual stimuli, there is no consciousness.  There is no making, receiving and preserving of imprints. There are no rich vibrant experiences, and there is no meaningful preparation for death.

We speak of doing things “mechanically”, which means doing things without feeling and without purpose.  When we live life doing things “mechanically” most of the time, life becomes a living death.  We just move forward in life with our empty actions, because if we didn’t we would be living in total numbness. I have talked of process-oriented violence, violence in which a person engages in order to pull himself out of numbness.  But on a less dramatic level, people, can live a process-oriented life: a life where there are no meaningful goals and where a person simply goes through through the motions of life in order to feel barely alive.

So becoming robotized really is a serious threat to confront.  Becoming robotized becomes a subtle process for killing a person’s spirit.  And to the extent that we continue to immerse ourselves in all of the different devices of consumer technology that are available, we are endangering ourselves.  Sometimes, there is not a close temporal relationship between cause and effect in the life processes in which we engage.  The robotizing that I am talking about does not occur all at once immediately after the use of a consumer technological device.  It occurs gradually over time, after the sustained use of several devices.  As a result, most people do not establish a mental connection between the sustained use of several consumer devices and becoming more like a robot.  But it is there.  And it is the kind of situation that has to be acted upon before a person completely loses his human dimension.  It is like an illness that doesn’t demonstrate a lot of meaningful symptamology until it is already in an advanced stage.

And, in particular, the people who are most in danger of losing their human essence are the young people.  They are the ones growing up, who have never known a time when they weren’t immersed in consumer technological devices.  Already we some effects.  Kids sitting together using their their smart phones rather talking to each other.  Incapacity to commit in marriage, as the percentage of the population that is married continues to fall.  Incapacity of both employer and employee to commit to a long-term work relationship.  In the United States, a country with a lot of robotizing influence from all of its consumer technological devices, an increasing number of mass killings by young people who simply strike out in process-oriented violence.  In my opinion, immersion in consumer technological devices has a great deal to do with mass killings like the horrible killing of twenty students and six adults at Sandy Point Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.  And if my idea is right, then unfortunately the violence will continue, until the lives of children are somehow dramatically reshaped.  Unfortunately, I don’t think this transformation will occur any time in the near future.

© 2013 Laurence Mesirow

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