Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Life Is Becoming A Magnifying Glass

            The purpose of having a world totally under control by modern technology is, on one level, creating a certain ideal state of mind in people.  When a person lives in a field of experience that is significantly free of organic perishability, free of things that rot and spoil and crumble, he is hoping to live in a state of mind of tranquility associated with eternity.  One does not see decay; so, on one level, one believes that everything he is experiencing will go on, will last forever.  For sure, on an intellectual level, one knows that everything that is alive is supposed to die.  But then he looks around and sees so much that is made of strong steel, concrete, asphalt, stone, and, most important of all, plastic.  These materials all seem so indestructible.  And they were created by humans or, at least, shaped by humans.  And the machines made from some of these materials make life so frictionless.  Many of these machines even move in a frictionless way.  They have the potential more and more to take over human life tasks and leave humans the opportunity to live more and more a life of ease.

            Secure foundations, on the one hand, and frictionlessness, on the other hand.  The result should be tranquil contentment.  Right?  We identify with the imprints, strongly protected and preserved by modern technology, that are around us, and we feel as if we could calmly go on forever in the way these imprints seem to be doing.  And this is how we define our idealized bliss in modern technological society.

            Except is this what people are actually experiencing today in their lives?  I would suggest that something different is actually happening.  There is a pattern of behavior, consequence and reaction to the consequence in the form of new behavior that is taking people in modern technological society into a vicious spiral.  The more we make certain aspects of our experience frictionless, the more we perceive the smaller and smaller levels of remaining friction as intolerably unbearable.  And the more we try to protect ourselves with sturdier and sturdier structures in our living environment, the more we experience any less sturdy structures as intolerably unstable.  Here, I am not just talking about architecture, but about all the material structures in our lives.  All the different artifacts that we use.  And this also applies to the metaphorical structures of our lives.  Our work situation.  Our family situation.  Our community situation.  Our love life.  We want solid stability in everything.  In terms of my model, we want to create a world of perfect figures surrounded by a perfect vacuum.  This will give tangible security and numbing contentment combining to make a mental state of an illusion of immortality here on earth.

            Except that the security and the contentment never really happen.  We can never get rid of all structural insecurity and all life friction.  But as we experience greater and greater levels of structural security and of frictionlessness in life, we change.  We become more and more used to living in an experiential bubble.  Everything must stand firmly or flow smoothly, and those phenomena that don’t fit into this implicit rule make us feel extremely vulnerable.  I talked about a GPS in a previous article.  People now expect a machine to be always able to guide them from point a to point b.  The idea of improvising and of figuring out a path from a regular map or else asking a person on the street for directions seems like an overwhelming task that would draw people out of their mental expectation of security, frictionlessness and, yes, predictability.

            Perhaps soon, we will have a GPS that guides us to work out disagreements with other people.  Because people are developing an intolerance for friction with the people around them.  Rather than continue to experience such friction, people pull out of  relationships.  They quit jobs or fire employees, leave marriages, stop talking to friends and family, and leave communities, rather than really try to work out their problems with the people with whom they are having conflict.  So relationships become more and more transient, as the perception of friction in the relationships grows stronger and stronger.  And many people withdraw into greater and greater isolation in order to avoid friction with their fellow humans.

            If we were to develop a GPS for human relations, it would mean that people, in their quest for greater and greater frictionlessness, security and predictability, had succumbed to becoming robots, operating only from discrete prompts in their environment.  Fortunately, that has not occurred just yet.

            The vicious spiral of magnifying irritation which I have discussed is particularly relevant in modern industrial society, where technology has been somewhat successful in creating a sturdy transcendent security in the living environment and in creating smooth frictionless processes as the basis of the fundamental activity that infuses human life.  In more traditional Third World countries, there is presently a struggle going on between modern technology and strongly entrenched traditional cultural forces for taking over the control of both structure and function in those societies.  People in Third World countries are more resistant to losing the organic friction that is the foundation of more traditional economic activity, more traditional social activity, and a very elaborate cultural activity.

            Many people from the modern technological societies go to these Third World countries and see only chaos and experience only overstimulation.  These visitors desperately want to rationalize the experiences that they have.  They want to streamline these Third World cultures, get rid of all the inefficient activity that seems incomprehensible to them.

            And yet, perhaps these countries, rather than making an attempt to follow in the
exact footsteps of modern technological society, should truly appreciate the value of the more traditional aspects of their cultures that they are being pressured by the global economy to give up.  Maybe there are ways that they can be and should be life models for the modern technological societies that they are supposed to emulate.  Maybe these Third World countries can offer some antidotes that can be applied to help people who are sinking into the vicious experiential spiral that has been discussed.

            That which is considered an ideal state of mind for people – total calm from living with secure structures and the frictionlessness of modern technology – is in truth not so ideal.  It leads to a vicious spiral in which one sinks into deeper and deeper layers of numbness and greater and greater levels of magnified irritation from smaller and smaller levels of friction.  People need significant levels of the organic friction that modern technological society has tried to eliminate.  That friction is an essential part of the life narrative that leads to making, preserving and receiving organic imprints.  That friction is essential to having rich vibrant work and play life experiences and to being able to prepare for death.

            In most Third World countries, modern technology has only partly succeeded in creating living environments that are built with secure structures and that are relatively frictionless.  In Latin America, Africa, Asia and the Pacific islands, there are still plenty of places where life has not been made predictable and orderly.  Plenty of places where nature and natural processes still maintain their dominance both directly and indirectly.  All of these places have been partly disrupted by modern technology.  And in some places, this has provoked reactions among the inhabitants.  Some people become terrorists.  Some become members of drug cartels or other gangs.  Some people become involved with both kinds of groups.  But in spite of these negative reactions, there are people in these places who still have rich primary experiences, grappling with the organic phenomena in their lives, and being stimulated to life by the organic friction in their surroundings.

            And it is not that we people in modern technological society are going to ever be able to go back so completely to a traditional way of life.  But these more traditional people can act as a kind of guidepost of how to live life filled with more healthy primary experience.  Modern society people have to start working their way away from numbness back to a more healthy friction-filled life style.  They have to do it gradually, so as not to be overwhelmed by stimulation to which they are no longer accustomed.  But they have to start doing it, before they lose their human essence.

(c) 2013 Laurence Mesirow

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