Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Regaining Trust In The World Through Religious Certainty

            The loss of trust between people in modern technological society is still another component leading to the rise of fundamentalism. A loss of trust leads to a lack of a sense of certainty in daily life, which leads people to search for certainty someplace else – namely the spiritual world.  To obtain that sense of certainty, one must make a complete surrender to God and to the religious practices and beliefs that surround a particular religion’s interpretation of God.  And this, of course, leads to fundamentalism.

            In this article, I’m going to explore this line of thought more thoroughly, discussing what trust means, and how the loss of it is so pernicious to the people who live in modern technological society.  There are different ways of approaching the subject of the nature of trust, but I propose discussing it from the notion that there are two basic kinds of trust.  There is instrumental trust which is a belief that another person will be able and willing to perform a particular task as an independent figure, completing the task in the way that is expected of him.  This can be an expectation that a person will perform a task or tasks in one particular instance or that a person will continue to perform a task or tasks over time whenever he is asked to do so.  This is an operational trust that doesn’t speak to any aspect of the nature of a person outside his capacity and his willingness to perform one particular task or group of tasks.

            The second kind of trust is intrinsic trust.  This is trust in another person’s nature insofar as the nature can provide an unconditional emotional grounding for the person doing the trusting.  It is a more intangible kind of trust that deals with the very essence of the person being trusted.  On another level, it assumes that the person being trusted has a coherent sense of self that is at once both accessible to the person doing the trusting as well as totally reliable.

            In the first kind of trust, the focus is on how reliably a person can function, much the same way we would focus on how reliably a machine functions.  To the extent that there is an emotional bond based on instrumental trust, it is a bond of conditional liking or loving.  The instrumental trust leads to an emotional bond the duration of which is contingent upon the continued effective performance of the tasks for which the receiver of the trust has been designated responsible.  In pure cases of instrumental trust, when the receiver of the trust ceases to effectively perform the tasks for which he has been designated, the giver of the trust ceases to maintain a positive emotional bond with the receiver.

            This is very different from intrinsic trust where the receiver of the trust is trusted as a reliable person whether or not during any given period of time he is performing tasks which demonstrate his reliability.  In this case, a strong flowing continual emotional bond is maintained with the receiver of the trust and goes on existing even during periods of time when there is no necessity to perform trustworthy tasks.  This is an emotional bond that typically exists among primates and other evolved animals.  It involves the kind of trust on which families are based.  Without some intrinsic trust, families cannot exist.  The children of primates and other evolved animals need to have intrinsic trust in their parents, if they are going to develop and grow up to be normal members of their group.

            But the problem is that as modern technology takes over more and more aspects of daily life, modern machines increasingly act as mirrors and models for all the humans that live among them.  And people increasingly adopt their expectations for machines as their expectations for themselves and other people.  Which means that people increasingly focus on instrumental trust in their dealings with other people rather than intrinsic trust.  They will trust another person to perform certain agreed-upon tasks, but the trust doesn’t go beyond the surface activity of those tasks.  It doesn’t go to a person’s deeper nature, trusting who a person is, such that the trust would extend to the person both in terms of how he performs in unforeseen situations, as well as how he relates to people.  Instrumental trust doesn’t delve into whether or not a person has a trustworthy character. Or whether or not he is an honorable person.  These kinds of questions aren’t being asked, because people are increasingly expected to act like machines rather than like primates.  Intrinsic trust is not expected in situations where employers show little loyalty to workers and increasingly use contract workers.  There is no need to have deeper trust in a worker, when a person is simply required to do certain work projects and then the boss is done with him.  And the worker knows that he can’t trust the boss to give him constant employment.

            Few people today like to make the deep commitments that involve intrinsic trust.  Many couples feel more comfortable living together indefinitely rather than getting married.  Children frequently allow their work to take them to distant cities far away from their home            cities with their family ties.  And as people move around for work, their friendships shift as well.  In today’s world, human connections are increasingly contingent upon the functional needs of the moment.  For many people, this contingency in human bonding and the lack of opportunity to have deep grounded intrinsic trust in others creates a very troubling situation for them.

            There is still another level in which people experience a lack of intrinsic trust and this is in a lack of trust in themselves.  If a person, in unconsciously modeling himself after machines, becomes reduced to a series of different functions required for the different areas of his life (work functions as well as functions required for romance, friendship, family, recreation, religion, etc.), then there is no core self in which to feel intrinsic trust in himself.  He loses his capacity to feel a global confidence in himself - a flowing, continual, blendable bond with himself.  He has a lot of self-definition with all of his different separate functions, all his different mental parts, but he lacks self-coherence, a sense of unity of self.  He feels fractured and emotionally stressed and in danger of losing himself.

            One way to feel a sense of coherence again is to become a part of a larger coherence that will help to grow the person together again.  And if that coherence cannot be easily found among all the fragmented people that typically surround a person, then a person can look someplace that is not a part of mainstream life in modern technological society.  I’m talking about the enveloping cohesive world created by fundamentalist religion.  Fundamentalist religion provides an emotional certainty, an emotional grounding missing in most other interpersonal areas of modern society.  A firm belief in a demanding God or an enveloping spiritual force provides the ultimate grounding and the intense emotional bond that many modern people need in order to feel whole again.  And the other adherents of the religion help to reinforce a person’s commitment, so that he can sustain the benefits that come from a strong bonded connection to God and to the principles of the religion.

     Of course, as has been previously pointed out, a fundamentalist believer has to repeatedly hammer his connection to his religion onto his field of experience through many rites, rituals, prayers and other religious ceremonies, in effect because it is hard to sustain his intrinsic trust in his God and his religion, when he is surrounded by so much distracting confusing sensory distortion from the modern technological living environment.  He operates out of a posture of what I have called conative acceleration - a speeding up of his will - in order to push aside the distracting sensory distortion in his living environment and focus on building a sense of grounding in his religion and spiritual community.  But because he is constantly hammering onto his field of experience with repetitive actions, with rites, rituals, prayers and other religious ceremonies, he begins to increasingly become like the modern technology, the machines from which he is trying to stand apart, with his fervent religious path. 

So, in truth, the problem today is not a loss of all trust, but rather a loss of intrinsic trust. Fundamentalism can lead a person to gain back a sense of intrinsic trust through absolute faith and through a tight religious community, but in the process he becomes robotized.  Certainly there have to be other more natural methods of restoring a sense of intrinsic trust and a coherent sense of self apart from taking the pathway of fundamentalism.


The topic for this article was suggested by Dr. Jorge Cappon.


© 2015 Laurence Mesirow

Symbolic Death In The Modern Technological World

            In a recent article, I explored at length how immersing oneself in the world of modern technology puts a person into a world that is totally free of organic perishability and thus numbs that person to the possibility of death.  I also discussed how constantly living in a world of experience that separates a person from the possibility of death, makes death a particularly scary experience for which the person is totally unprepared.  Death becomes a foreign experience that is magnified as a result of the relative lack of direct contact with it and particularly in a natural environment.  Hence, the rise in modern existential despair and the modern dread of death.

            However, my good friend Dr. Jorge Cappon, professor emeritus at the National Autonomous University of Mexico and well known psychoanalyst, has pointed out to me that there are two forms of symbolic death that occur in the modern technological world that do have an impact on people: the planned obsolescence of machines and the deletion of e-mails.  This observation is the starting point for my renewed exploration of the relationship between technology and death.  In this article, I will discuss some of the effects of symbolic technological death on people. 

The first form of symbolic technological death to be considered here is the planned obsolescence of machines.  Modern machines may be potentially immortal, because of the potential use of replaceable parts to keep them going indefinitely.  But they are designed to stop working well after a certain amount of use, so that companies can make money selling new models to customers.  One could say that these machines die metaphorically.  And because most of these machines are not biodegradable, death for them means the cessation of function rather that the cessation of form.  Yes, parts of the machine could corrode or rust, and the machines may even break apart or become misshapen.  But, for the most part, the material substance is maintained and some if not all aspects of the material form are maintained.  The machines are highly defined figures that are not built to completely undifferentiate and merge again with the organic grounding from which they came.  Many times they are taken to junk yards.  Sometimes different parts of these defunct machines are salvaged and recycled for use in other machines.  But, for the most part, these machines are condemned to exist in the purgatory of continued material existence in some form with no continued use as coherent entities.  In the junk yard, they become a part of a tension-pocket of discarded disjunctive defined discrete material entities that have no organic or mechanical connection to one another and that float in what for humans is an experiential vacuum.

            This represents a model for humans of a death that is not really death, because the machine cannot truly undifferentiate and degrade back into the organic grounding.  Planned obsolescence leads to the immortal but lifeless existence of permanent hulks cluttering the face of the earth without ever reuniting with the soil of the earth.  

Another model for death takes a very different path of ceasing to exist.  Rather than existing without living forever, this other model is one where an entity instantaneously totally ceases to exist.  I’m talking about the deletion of e-mails.  The average person has no feel for what happens when he deletes an e-mail.  The e-mail simply disappears into a vacuum, into nothingness.  There is definitely no process of organic decay.  There is no becoming one with the earth again in such a way that the substance of the entity can be used to create new organisms, new living figures.  The e-mail does not participate in the ongoing flow of life in such a way that it can make and preserve organic imprints in other life forms.  The e-mail simply ceases to exist, having left no permanent imprint in the person’s field of experience.  If planned obsolescence is a metaphor for a person’s body being forever lifeless and forever intact, a free-floating figure that ends up a part of a tension-pocket of disjunctive junk in a junk heap, a deleted e-mail is a metaphor for a person’s body disappearing into a non-material universe, an experiential vacuum where everything is totally annihilated.  How does a person wrap his mind around total non-existence?

            There is actually one other kind of entity that serves as the basis of two metaphors for death from within modern technological society.  This entity is the television program.  A television program metaphorically dies in two ways.  It dies when a person turns off the television, either during or after the program.  When a person turns off a television program, at that moment, the program totally ceases to exist within the viewer’s field of experience.  It disappears within an experiential vacuum.  Another form of program death is when a program series dies when the last episode shows.  Granted the program can go into reruns, but the viewer is no longer living with the characters in the same way in an unfolding imitation of life time; living within the characters’ lives, as if he was actually part of the program, as if he had an alternate life narrative that was perhaps more exciting, more stimulating than his own.  One can watch a television series on Netflix or DVD’s, but it is not the same as an alternate life narrative, because a person can see the last episode first if he wants to.  And often a person has been told or has read or has even seen how the series ends by the time he has access to it on Netflix or DVD’s.           

            At any rate, television programs are vacuumized life, not real primary experience life, and that explains how one can turn off a program so instantly with no signs of a foreshadowed decaying or cessation of existence.  There is something in television programs that trivializes the flow of life, by vacuumizing it and being able to simply turn it on and off on a machine.  And yet many people find their own lives so vacuumized, so empty as a result of living in modern technological society, that they feel more alive living vicariously in their favorite vacuumized television series.  Which is why when the spell is broken and the series ends and the characters totally cease to exist in real life time with no physical remains, no organic decay, it is a cessation of existence that can leave the viewer as empty or emptier than before he started watching the show.

            So there is definitely a paradox here with regard to the phenomena a person encounters in his field of experience in modern technological society. On one hand, the structures created in our modern world, whether material or electronic, do provide a sense of permanence and a sense of transcendence over the natural world of organic perishability.  So that being surrounded by these phenomena, we can trick ourselves psychologically into thinking that we have escaped the influences of organic perishability and even our own organic mortality.

            But although we do escape reminders of our full organic mortality, as a result of living apart from nature, we don’t escape confrontations with the cessation of existence.  When a machine breaks down and ceases to operate, it is as if its machine life has up and left it, leaving behind a material hulk that never decays back into the earth where it can be reincarnated into a different material phenomenon.  The machine breaking down is a scary metaphor for death.  It is a metaphor for the brain dead people who are in a coma and kept alive indefinitely by modern medical technology.  A brain dead person is a lifeless hulk of a person who has lost his capacity for consciousness.  Such a state of existence represents a kind of a living death.  And what about an old machine that can function a little, move a little, but is useless for the kind of serious work for which it is created.  Compare this with a person who is partly conscious but can’t speak, can’t move and thus basically can’t communicate or function by himself.

            It would be harder to find any kind of human metaphors for the deletion of an e-mail.  Or anything else on a computer.  What does it mean for a phenomenon in cyberspace to cease to exist?  For one thing, no readily accessible remains can be found by the average computer user.  Yes, there are people who can recover deleted e-mails, but most people experience the deletion of an e-mail as the total cessation of existence of the e-mail.  There is no corpse left, no hulk or piece of junk left.  Just nothingness.  Total nothingness is pretty scary for a person in modern technological society trying to deal with his own future non-existence.  In truth, it is much scarier than an organic death, and gradual disintegration into the soil.

            There is a good metaphor for the human images we see on a screen.  Yes, those are images of real humans on the screen (except the virtual ones), but the total experiential effect of images on a screen is that of vacuumized humans, humans without substance, humans without breadth, humans without tactile qualities.  As vacuumized humans, they come off to us as ghost-like phenomena.  Spirits from another world.  Television is a vacuumized space that lacks substance much like the spirit world.  So there is a sense in which we are not participating in our own primary experience real world, when we immerse ourselves in the world of television.  And when a popular television series is over, and the images of our favorite characters vanish from our fields of experience like ghosts, we realize that we have emotionally committed ourselves to an ungrounded world, where we have pulled ourselves out of the flow of real primary experience life and the flow of blendable continual stimuli that stimulate us to life as the animals that we are.  The flow of blendable continual stimuli that act as the foundation for the organic imprints we make, receive and preserve, the rich vibrant life experiences we are capable of having and the surrogate immortality we create as the comforting preparation for death.  Spending too much time living with ghosts interferes with our capacity to live the kind of life that can diminish our fear, our despair over death.

            Dr. Cappon was right in pointing out that there are symbolic deaths created by technology in modern technological society.  So our fear of death comes from both our distancing ourselves from death through the solid technological structures among which we live as well as through the distorted forms of cessation of existence and of partial existence created through the functioning of modern technology.  Some people will try to escape death by becoming cyborgs, and that has been discussed in previous articles.  But for most people, the sensory distortion among which they live will have a serious effect on their ability to confront the possibility of their own mortalities.  It will lead to the existential despair and the dread of death that is the hallmark of people living within an increasingly present technological mantel that covers their lives.
(c) 2015 Laurence Mesirow


Why Emoticons Aren’t Very Emotional

            One of the most salient features of modern Internet life is the use of emoticons to express emotions within the context of e-mail and Facebook messages.  Emoticons are symbolic icons used to show the emotions of the sender of an e-mail.  Sometimes emoticons can be typographic configurations, as when a colon and a right parenthesis are put together in an e-mail to demonstrate a smiley face.  Sometimes emoticons can be pictorial images that show primarily different expressions of a standardized person or creature’s face and hands.

            Some time will be spent here discussing emoticons, because they seem to represent a very significant phenomenon in modern life.  In many ways, they highlight the changes going on in the modern human mind and in modern social expression.  The problem with emoticons is that they are shortcuts that replace complex nuanced feelings.  To use one out of a delimited series of standardized icons to show an emotional state is to get rid of many other different things that are normally expressed when an emotional communication is expressed with words.

            When a person uses words to express, let us say, his positive feelings towards another person, there is frequently a temporal dimension demonstrated in his emotional statements.  A person can say “I really was attracted to you when we met yesterday” or “I hope we can become friends in the future” or “I will love you always”.  That temporal context is lost with an emoticon, which can only show a feeling expressed as a highly defined image in an indeterminate moment in time – a free-floating emotional figure in a temporal vacuum.  An emoticon can’t show development of feeling.  It is static, unlike words which can show the evolution of feelings over time.

            Furthermore, emoticons take away personal agency from emotional expression.  All that an emoticon really says is that there is an emotion of say flirtation, love, happiness, sadness or anger connected to the message.  This is very different from a person saying “I love you!” or “I feel happy because of you or because of what you did.”  It is as if the person using the emoticon is anxious, awkward or uncomfortable in expressing his feelings.  Without the commitment of personal agency, a person can feel less vulnerable to having his emotions in any way rejected or ignored.

            In addition, emoticons eliminate emotional complexity.  When feelings are reduced to a single simple iconic image, there is no opening for really discussing them.  What if a person feels particularly good about some aspect of the other person or something the other person did?  An emoticon is a shield that eliminates the need to go into any detail about the nature of a person’s flowing blendable continual emotional feelings or what has caused them to appear.  What if a person is angry about a particular aspect of the other person or something the other person did?  An anger emoticon gets rid of the necessity for the sender to sort out his feelings of anger, to help him channel his feelings of anger so that he isn’t overtaken by them.  Furthermore, it prevents the receiver from understanding the cause of the anger, so that he can do something about it and perhaps contribute to eliminating or at least diminishing the sender’s feelings.  The same would be true of a sadness emoticon.  The sadness emoticon simply keeps the expression of the feelings simple and undeveloped.  The receiver can only be a spectator to the feelings rather than become involved with them.

            The emoticon keeps emotions static, when in real life they are dynamic and evolving.  How does one show an emoticon face that demonstrates conflicting feelings or tentative feelings?  Wouldn’t it be much easier for a person to elaborate on these feelings with words?  What if the feelings are evolving in certain ways that require the receiver of the message to understand these ways so that he can influence them.  “If you continue to behave in such and such a way, I will have to stop speaking to you.”  Or “I really enjoyed our date and I am looking forward to getting to know you more.”  This is a sub-category of a temporal dimension issue connected to emoticons.  It is not just talking about steady state feelings at a particular period of time.  It is about feelings undergoing a transformation.  The definition of them does not come with looking at them at one moment of time.  The result of doing things in the latter way would be like taking a picture of a runner or a swimmer while in a race.  The subject of the picture would be very blurry.

            The emoticon distorts the presentation of feelings by pretending that one can take a simple focused defined discrete snapshot of them.  And in so doing, a person’s presentation of self is distorted.  The person is presented as a simple focused defined discrete image.  The emoticon image has highly defined outlines, reinforcing the presentation of the person as a highly defined image.  The emoticon gets rid of the need to sort out one’s feelings in a situation, to spend time really trying to understand them so that they can be fully expressed.

            What I am really saying is that emoticons contribute to keeping a person’s emotions and sense of self both simple and undeveloped.  This is in contrast to the increasing complexity of cognitive development that is stimulated as a result of a sustained interaction between people, on the one hand, and computers and other screen machines, on the other.  This increasing imbalance of growing cognitive development and diminished emotional development leads to a person becoming robotized.

            As people increasingly use emoticons to express their feelings, the emoticons become the feelings.  Simple discrete robotic images.  One more contribution to taking people away from their organic human essence.

            Emoticons make it easy for people to not explore their feelings, to not have to experience the organic friction that comes from deep-bonding with people.  Emoticons permit people to remain in emotional isolation in an emotional vacuum where they can become robots.

            One last point.  Emoticons are not only used as a substitute for direct statements of feelings, either towards the end of a message or as the whole message.  Emoticons are also used to unpack the emotional content of declarative sentences within a message, when the emotional aspect of the sentences is unclear.  Written communication has no natural substitute for the vocal inflection that plays such an important role in expressing the emotional content of oral communication.  Nevertheless, before emoticons, people often would find a way of crafting their words when writing letters to others, such that their emotional messages were more effectively communicated within the content of the letter.  But it did require more work than emoticons do, and traditional people who had important emotional content to communicate to others who lived close to them would probably have been more predisposed to communicate the message with the emotional content directly as a vocal communication whenever possible.  Having emoticons gives the appearance of making it much easier to communicate emotional content (although in a distorted short-cut form) in written messages.  So rather than feeling the impetus to go and talk with someone – which would have the added benefits of encouraging rich primary experience and deeper emotional bonds with other people, message senders can sink into the experiential vacuums created by their smartphones, their tablets and their computers and emotionally bond with these machines in the process of communicating flat mechanical emotional images to their receivers.


© 2015 Laurence Mesirow

The Fundamentalist Response To Modern Technological Society

            Many of the most recent articles in this column have focused on the many people in the modern world who are increasingly mimicking robotic behavior in order to fit in with the technological processes created by the machines, computers and robots that surround them.  Nevertheless, there are people who fight against these robotic influences by creating coherent non-conforming cultural groupings.  These non-conformists are in many cases fighting back against succumbing to the pathological influences of the sensory distortion created by modern technology.  These are not the isolated suffering canaries in the coal mine that have been mentioned recently, the people who involuntarily are incapable of properly becoming robotic and who suffer from being misfits as a result of their sensitivity to sensory distortion.

            The people I want to focus on in this article are people who, as much as possible, try to go back to a pre-modern life order with a greatly reduced interaction with modern technology.  They have an ideology that helps defend them psychologically against technological seduction.  The core of that ideology is religious fundamentalism.  All over the world there are people who embrace the most orthodox strains of their religion today and who use it as a vehicle to shut out the robotizing influences of modern technology.  This is done through the psychological posture of conative acceleration – the speeding up of the will.  A person generates as many defined discrete stimuli of religious fundamentalism as he is able to in his mind, in order to shut out the defined discrete stimuli emanating from all the technological processes and events that are occurring in the field of experience around him.

            But here is the key: by generating so many defined discrete stimuli in his mind, so many rigid rules, rites and rituals to shut out what surrounds him, the rigid brittle behavior of machines invades his mind, only by a different pathway.  The religious fundamentalist becomes like his adversaries – the secular adherents of modern technological society – in the process of fighting against the influences of modern technology and pushing it away.  The religious fundamentalist develops a brittle rigid adherence to his religion, becoming totally immersed in the minutiae of the religious rules.

            This modern fundamentalist expression of religion has a different flavor from the traditional expression of religion in earlier times.  Before the technological takeover of the human living environment, the major adversary of religious humans was the tendency within them to slip into animalistic lusts which were considered to be sinful.  Focusing on defined discrete religious precepts helped to prevent religious devotees from losing their strongly defined human sense of self and becoming gradually undifferentiated as they lost themselves in the flowing blendable continual stimuli of the excesses of their animalistic pleasures: gluttony, drunkenness, fornication, greedy accumulation of wealth, random violence.  Traditional religious people in the past were concerned with transcending above their own animal natures.  But because their animal natures were constantly being stimulated by the flowing blendable continual stimuli in their organic traditional living environments, most traditional religious people focused on moderating and channeling their animal natures rather than totally repressing them.  Yes, there were ascetics, but these represented a small percentage of the population.  Most traditional religious people accepted the fact that their transcendence was limited and that they were still basically a part of the natural world.  Even as they fought so hard to be different from the lower animals, stimulation of their animal natures was so constant that they merged to some extent with the environment that they fought.

            Nevertheless, they did not fight against technological progress.  Traditional religious peoples in the Middle East, Asia, Africa and Latin America built empires based on their technological advances and perceived their technology as the foundation of the transcendent civilizations they created.  Religious governments in Europe used the technological superiority found in their ships and armaments to conquer less technologically advance societies first in Europe and then all over the world and thus to carry the transcendent word of their religions to the people in these societies.  In most cases, nonwestern religions were blended with the religions of the conquerors or else allowed to co-exist with the religions of the conquerors.  Polytheistic religions absorbed the God of the conqueror into their pantheon.  In Latin America, African gods were merged with Christian saints to form new syncretistic religions like Voodoo, Santeria, Candomble, Macumba, and Umbanda.

            Yes, there were situations when two conquering religions fought wars with each other, as in the Crusades, but it was with regard to conflicting transcending visions to suppress animal tendencies rather than conflicting systems of rigid life rules.  Fundamentalists today are concerned with defined discrete rigid mechanistic life rules that they control and that allow them to block out or contain the mechanistic robotic processes of the complex machines that surround them.

            So what is the problem with people joining fundamentalist religions.  The problem is that these religions really don’t help people to effectively fight off the robotic influences that move people away from a balanced human essence.  Fundamentalist religions basically become another form of turning people into robots.  If humans are entities that should absorb a balanced configuration of defined discrete stimuli, on the one hand, and flowing blendable continual stimuli on the other, in order to develop balanced senses of self, then we can say that fundamentalists fall into a pattern of absorbing an excess of defined discrete stimuli in terms of rigid rules and rigid ideological precepts.  In other words, fundamentalism causes people to move away from an essential basic balanced humanity, rather than towards it.

            Fundamentalists today are fighting very different kinds of environmental adversaries than the traditional religion practitioners from the past.  And just like the traditional religion practitioners became somewhat animalistic in fighting off the more primitive influences in their more organic natural living environments – savage in the ways they conquered more primitive non-believers, slaughtering and massacring opponents – so the fundamentalists today become somewhat robotic in fighting off the robotic influences in their modern technological living environment

            Now it is true there are fundamentalist groups today, particularly in the Middle East who still think in terms of physical conquest of other peoples and dealing ruthlessly with adversaries.  Nevertheless, the focus in their daily lives is on a rigid, robotic, puritanical following of religious rules and rites.  One could say these groups are hybrids of the old and the new.  Along with dealing with the adversaries represented by their neighbors of different religious persuasions, these groups grapple with the larger technological environment which interferes with their capacity and their desire to leave strong organic imprints.  The fact that they are hybrids does not mean that these more aggressive fundamentalist groups are balanced between their animal and robot sides.  It means simply that they are very volatile as they are pulled strongly in two opposite directions.

            In previous articles, I discussed how people become what they use today – how they become like the complex machines that they seem to control and manipulate, but that in some ways actually control and manipulate them.  In the same way, people can become what they fight against, bleed into what their adversaries are.  Fundamentalists become robotic.  Traditional religious practitioners became and become savage.  Fighting stimulates engagement with the adversary and, in the process of trying to make and preserve imprints on the adversary, fighting with certain weapons with certain strategies and in certain ways, the adversary makes and preserves imprints on the fighter, which in turn help to configure the fighter’s responses.

            And all this blurring is due to the fact that the world is not just filled with measurable defined discrete stimuli, but also has flowing blendable continual stimuli.  And when the flowing blendable continual stimuli are diminished as a result of the world becoming covered with modern technology, these stimuli are still manufactured in our minds to try to provide some unity to the configurations of phenomena in our fields of experience.  Unfortunately, as is the case with many of the Middle East fundamentalists and their technological environment, that attempted unity of experience may not succeed.  It is hard for people to unite traditional ways and modern technological processes.  This can lead to a rejection of one’s field of experience altogether and ultimately an attempt to destroy what’s in it including many of the people.


© 2015 Laurence Mesirow

 The topic for this article was suggested by Dr. Jorge Cappon

The Increasing Modern Existential Despair Over Death

            As our modern living environment becomes increasingly cover with and filled with technology, people increasingly feel separated from their organic grounding in nature.  And because this loss of grounding leads to a loss of participation in the flow of processes in nature, many people become increasingly unused to and uncomfortable with this flow of processes and, in particular, the final process which is death.  Even though they still crave and need the organic stimuli involved in these processes, as they become more and more involved in defending themselves against sensory distortion, they lose their capacity to effectively absorb organic stimuli.  These people become increasingly conscious of their mortality, because organic perishability – the mortality of all organisms – is just not a part of their daily lives.  And then these people develop different ways of defending themselves against a growing sense of dread because of this ongoing growing sense of mortality.

            One path of defense is to use technology to help suppress an elevated awareness of death.  By becoming more like machines – either taking on machine behavior or trying to replace more and more parts of the organic body with machine parts - people try to deny their mortality by identifying with those entities that don’t suffer from organic perishability.  Modern machines, with their relatively easy-to-replace parts are potentially immortal.  To identify with machines is to adopt the aura of immortality.  Some people adopt what they perceive to be positive traits of machines – productivity, efficiency, objectivity.  Some people immerse themselves in defined discrete data – the language of modern machines.  By opening themselves up to oceans of data, rather than oceans of water, and filling their minds with such data, people develop pixilated landscapes in their minds, fragmented consciousnesses built on points of data.  The result is a gradual loss of coherent consciousness.  This loss acts as good protection against the panic that comes today from being estranged from organic grounding as well as from the natural flow of organic processes that leads ultimately to perishing in death. 

Of course, some people want to go one step further and actually give up their organic physical unity as well as their organic mental unity by replacing more and more parts of their coherent organic body with machine parts.  This further leads to fragmented self-awareness, which, when all is said and done, may be one of the best ways to numb one’s consciousness and thus one’s awareness of death.  Of course, in the long run, as has been discussed in previous articles, developing a robotic consciousness or becoming a cyborg is ultimately a way of killing the organic human essence.  It is like people who become somehow robotized are also willing to experience a partial death in order to avoid focusing on a total organic death.

Then there are those people who are unable to use modern technology to practice a denial of death, who experience their modern inflated awareness of death as putting them in an ongoing living death and who find terminating their lives in the physical world a preferable alternative to the pain of their ongoing awareness of their mortality.  What is interesting is that the act of suicide can lead to a kind of surrogate immortality for the person who commits it in today’s world that he would not have been able to achieve while staying alive.  I’m talking about the shocking painful memories left with the people who survive the person who commits suicide.  The graphic unnatural death of the deceased engraves a vivid long-lasting memory on the people who knew him or knew of him.  Suicide helps the deceased rid himself of the pain from his separation from organic grounding as well as giving him an awareness before he dies that he is doing something that will give him a kind of life through the memories of others after he dies.

The preserved organic imprint from the suicide is amplified when other people die in connection with the suicide.  The death of others can be accomplished through a mass killing, after which the killer can point a gun at his head and kill himself.  Or there can be a mass killing in which the killer puts himself in a situation where he will be killed in a shootout with law enforcement.  The imprint of these mass deaths is much greater than that of the isolated suicide.  Unless the suicide is a well-known individual, the imprint of the memory of his death extends only to his family, his friends, and his acquaintances.  In the case of a mass killing, the imprint of the memory of the death can extend to a whole nation and even internationally.

This approach to dealing with the fear from the increased awareness of mortality in an ungrounded living environment is very different from the approach of embracing and merging with the cause of the loss of organic connection - namely modern technology.  A person who merges with this technology as a cyborg does not have to worry about leaving organic imprints as a basis for a surrogate immortality.  As a cyborg that aspires to real immortality, such a person finds that a surrogate immortality is unnecessary.  Such a person believes he can go on living forever.

As for the person who merely identifies with modern technology rather than merging with it, living in the modern work environment filled with computer screens and computer data doesn’t help him to fully affirm his immortality, but it does help him to forget about death by becoming numb to his mortality.  The reams of data on the computer screen are free from any hint of organic perishability.  They exist free from any hint of organic decay, as they float in the experiential vacuum created on the computer screen.  In a sense, as the person’s mind absorbs these data, it experiences a temporary sense of immortality.  Such a sense of machine-based immortality is obviously not as enveloping as that of becoming a cyborg.  A person who just uses a computer would have more of a sense of his mortality than a cyborg, because his involvement with the immortalizing machinery would not be as constant as that of someone who had merged with it.  Nevertheless, truly immersing in the world of a computer would still be an effective means to deal with the modern existential despair that comes from being disconnected from organic grounding.

So here we have two basic approaches to what we can call a modern existential despair over death as a result of separation from organic grounding.  One approach uses technology to decrease one’s fears through either identifying with or merging with the supposedly immortal modern complex machines.  In the other approach, feeling shut out from organic grounding by modern technology, and despairing of ever being able to make meaningful organic imprints to feel alive as well as to preserve some of them to prepare for death, a person gets rid of his pain by taking his own life and sometimes the lives of others in the process.  The person gets rid of his existential despair and leaves a searing imprint through the memories that are left in the minds of the people around him and sometimes the minds of strangers as well.  While the second approach involves total death, the first approach involves a living death from numbing a person’s consciousness to the pain of a real death.  All this proves is that we need a solid organic grounding in our field of experience in order to feel fully alive and to prepare for death.  The challenge today is to find some way to recreate enough of this grounding so that the dangerous approaches to life just discussed no longer play such a prominent role among modern humans.
(c) 2015 Laurence Mesirow