This article is going to deal with what I perceive to be an important apparent paradox in human nature. It is only by having a rich deep subject self-awareness that one can follow through on and keep one’s commitments to other people in the external world . I am using commitment in the widest sense of the word. When you tell someone you will call them back, that is a commitment. If you are reviewing someone’s job application, there is an implicit commitment, or at least there used to be, to inform the applicant not only if he is accepted, but also if he is rejected. And if a person is accepted for a job, both employee and employer have implicit commitments to each other with regard to work goals and the work situation in general. Ideally, when two people get married, they have a commitment to stay together for life. Of course, things don’t always work out that way. People also have implicit commitments to their children and to their parents and to other members of their family. And people have implicit commitments to their communities and to their countries.
But somehow today, people are becoming less able and less predisposed to keep their commitments. People don’t return calls as much, after they say they will. People simply don’t follow through as much on the things they say they will do for others. Employers almost never send rejection letters to job applicants, leaving the applicants to wonder much longer than they should as to whether or not they got the job. Once in a job, there is much less commitment from both employer and employee. Employers are much more likely to lay off workers, and workers are much more likely to quit. And as for marriage, we all know the divorce rate is much higher than it used to be. And families are more fragmented than ever. And within our global community, patriotism is out in a lot of places. So is there a pattern here, or am I imagining things.
A person can only make and keep commitments, if he can make and preserve imprints. To do the latter, a person needs a field of experience with organic surfaces. Those organic surfaces act as templates, so that people can bond. In bonding, a person is in a situation where he can make and preserve and receive imprints, and, by extension, make and keep and accept commitments. In order to have contact with organic surfaces, a person has to be living at that time in primary experience such that he has direct sensory contact with his world. Screens whether from movie, television, computer, tablet, or smartphone mediate contact with a person’s world. As has been pointed out in previous articles, screens are vacuum environments filled with defined discrete digital stimuli and totally void of organic, blendable continual stimuli. The latter are the fundamental components of primary organic experience, components that create the foundation for bonding and committing with other human beings.
When one’s primary field of experience is screens, bonding with other humans is impeded. One of the interesting traits of mediated screen experience is that it is so easy for a person to disconnect from the two-dimensional images of humans with which one is connecting. One can easily walk out of a movie theater, if one doesn’t like a movie and connect with the characters. One can simply turn off a television program, and, in so doing, turn off the people who are on it. One can refuse to send back a response to an e-mail one has received, and one can delete the sender from one’s e-mail address contacts and from Facebook and LinkedIn and any other social network on which he is connected to the person. And one can disconnect from a phone call or not answer a text message and delete the person from his phone contacts. It is so easy to cut off connection with a person in a screen experience.
But I’d like to suggest here that all these disconnections, all these deletions, have a profound connection to a person’s inner life. Because, when one is deleting so many figures from an external screen, one is also deleting these figures from his mind, configured as an internal screen. To be able to delete easily, one must not have a mind that acts easily as an organic surface capable of easily receiving organic imprints that are then preserved. Today, the internalized images of people are configured in a human mind as free-floating figures in the experiential vacuum of a mental screen that is analogous to the physical screens of consumer technology. Without strong internalized emotional grounding to hold them in the mind, the figures of people are easily disconnected and deleted.
And by configuring the mind as a screen, one becomes ungrounded from oneself, one becomes numb to oneself, one becomes disconnected from oneself. In making it easy to delete other people within various contexts from one’s mind, one also makes it easy to delete oneself. One develops a shallow commitment to oneself, a shallow experience of oneself, a shallow awareness of oneself.
It is only by having a deep awareness of self, which involves an awareness of one’s own needs for grounding as a human being, that one can extend this awareness to the people around him and treat them as he would want to be treated. But if one has become a robot with a fragmented pixilated sense of self with little self fragments floating around on the vacuum of an internalized screen, it becomes difficult to recognize the humanity of others. And also keep the ongoing big commitment of organic bonding to another person as well as the smaller more specific commitments of doing specific tasks to which one has obligated himself to another person.
But we live at a time when people are living in the vacuum base of modern technological environments and in the internalized vacuum of their minds as reflections of their experience with their external environments. And as people are always on their televisions, their smartphones, their computers or their MP3’s, they spend very little time by themselves revitalizing themselves in reverie.
It is when one is spending time by oneself in reverie that one becomes more deeply immersed in subjective awareness. One experiences himself in all of his organic coherence and in the midst of a lot of organic blendable continual stimuli. And when there is continuity of self, there develops a blending between words and action, a continuity of a person’s presentation in the external world. So when a person becomes emotionally connected to another individual, a family, a community or a country, he stays connected.
And this is how a human society can function properly and perpetuate itself. Whether or not there is immortality after death, there are the surrogate immortalities that come from the organic imprints we leave directly and indirectly on other people – the memories we leave with other people, all the things we have done that affect them, the special imprints like planting a tree, having a baby, writing a book, creating a company. And the way we are most likely to leave positive imprints is through keeping the commitments that we subjectively agree to make.
(c) 2014 Laurence Mesirow