How do I handle a fundamental conflict between my worldview and that of society at large?
January 24, 2010 9:40 PM   Subscribe

I have certain feelings, beliefs, and opinions that don't seem to match those of the rest of the Western World. I feel like I'm going crazy. What, if anything, can I do to deal with it?

I have felt this way for a long time now. Sometimes it's so bad I have trouble even working because I'm so distracted by my problem. It's a purely intellectual problem, and not the kind of thing that bothers most people, I guess. But for me, it's intensely upsetting, and it has gotten to the point that any exposure to popular media or ordinary people's viewpoint's at all is starting to be painful. I feel like I'm going crazy.

The problem is that my worldview, I guess, or some major parts of it, are more and more vividly conflicting with some of the most ubiquitous messages in the world around me. My identity is pretty wrapped up in these things as well. I hate conflict (despite how it may appear to some people) and so the constant awareness of this disagreement between me and all the values and ideals cherished by everybody around me all the time is hard to deal with.

I can see two potential things that, if I knew some way to achieve them, might be solutions to the problem or at least help me feel better. The first is to find a way to get some significant group of people to agree with, or at least validate, some of my thoughts and feelings on the issue. This could involve either actually convincing people that my ideas aren't crazy, or just finding a way to sort of mentally reinterpret the dominant ideas as not being wholly opposed to mine. The second is to find a way to change my beliefs and feelings to conform to societal norms. One can imagine a spectrum of solutions in between these extremes as well.

It's obvious which of those two solutions I would prefer, but I am sufficiently frustrated at this point that the other option is fine too. I have genuinely tried to accomplish both, and failed so far.

There are two components to this problem: emotions and reasoning, and my attitude seems different about each of these. I think what I'm yearning for is for my rational claim to be actually agreed with by some, but for my emotions to be considered just "valid and OK" (i.e. not sick or deranged), even if no one else actually feels the same emotions that I do about the subject. For me to be the one to change, I would need to convince myself intellectually that there is a flaw in my current reasoning and also come up with good reasoning for the other claim, and then also find some way to get myself to feel emotions that are appropriate for my new worldview.

I've been deliberately vague about what these beliefs and feelings are because I know this is already leaning toward chatfilter and I'm afraid turning it into a specific discussion of a subject would push it over the line.

So I guess my question is whether there is a good way to approach solving a massive psychological issue like this. What is the right thing to do? Where should I start?
posted by Xezlec to Religion & Philosophy (121 answers total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
 
I wrote "Weltschmertz" on the low-cost psychotherapy clinic's intake form. Just talking to someone about it helps and it turns out that's pretty much the job description for psychologists.
posted by carsonb at 9:45 PM on January 24, 2010 [10 favorites]


Stop taking yourself so seriously,
posted by Ironmouth at 10:07 PM on January 24, 2010 [33 favorites]


Sometimes it's so bad I have trouble even working because I'm so distracted by my problem.

It's a purely intellectual problem...

Somehow I doubt that. Yes, therapy sounds like a good idea.
posted by shivohum at 10:09 PM on January 24, 2010


I have certain feelings, beliefs, and opinions that don't seem to match those of the rest of the Western World.

This seems pretty unlikely, given that almost any belief has a message board somewhere on the internet. Even if you are a Anarcho-Syndicalist Figure Skater Historian, there is probably a forum somewhere where people will share your passion and beliefs.

If you mean that your beliefs don't match the prevailing ones in the Western World (Xtian lite consumerism), then there are plenty of people in the same boat, e.g. both atheists and fundamentalists are minorities who don't fit into mall culture.

I would just find some friends who are into discussing the same issues, perhaps a book group or political group. You may still want to check into therapy if this doesn't work out - the problem may actually be that your beliefs are irrational or there is some underlying pathology in the way you deal with others that is isolating you.
posted by benzenedream at 10:14 PM on January 24, 2010 [2 favorites]


Have you tried seeking out other people who share the same beliefs or opinions? As ubiquitous as mainstream messages are there are always countercultures to challenge those messages, it seems. Just hearing other people say "Oh yeah I feel the same way too" can be an enormous relief, especially if you feel your worldview is isolating you socially.
posted by drinkyclown at 10:17 PM on January 24, 2010


Whoops, on non-preview, what benzenedream said.
posted by drinkyclown at 10:18 PM on January 24, 2010


This seems very hard to answer to me. I'm gonna imagine for a minute that it is perennially the last Thursday in November through the first of January, all year long, on some horrible infinite Groundhog Day type loop, and you--you, my friend, hate Christmas but have to live all the time in The Christmas Season.

So okay. It's always Christmas and you HAAAATE Christmas. You hate the secularization of a religious holiday, you hate the religious holiday, you hate the commercialization of the secularization of the religious holiday. You hate carols at the mall, Secret Santa exchanges, those Salvation Army dudes with the hats--the whole thing. And your reasons for hating Christmas are serious and reasonable. You are not just some crank. But you LOOK like a crank to everyone, because everyone ELSE seems to love Christmas for exactly the same reasons you seem to hate it. They find gift-giving a practice that is based out of mutual esteem, love, and goodwill. You think it's corporate bullshit. And this is your life, all year long. Every. Single. Day. And people will not just live and let live. You hear all the time about how you need to be filled with "the Christmas spirit" and it is making you fucking nuts.

So what do you do?

I think your impulse that you need to be the one to change is correct here, not because your worldview is wrong, but because you are not gonna convince your boss in that stupid reindeer sweater that there hasn't been a goddamned reindeer in Miami since the goddamned ice age. But he likes the sweater, right? What's the harm in it? you say to yourself. BUT EVERY DAY! you also say to yourself. But he's a nice guy. Well. You're just gonna have to find a way to live with that sweater.

I think your impulse is correct, and what you need to do is just figure out a way to ease up on the world and find some people who will ease up on you. Ease up. You're right, okay, fine. But other people live in the world and whatever beliefs they're ascribing to more or less give their lives meaning. And unless those beliefs actively harm others, I can't imagine you want to take away meaning from other people. Even if you disagree. How can you cultivate a position of affection and goodwill for people whose beliefs are radically different from yours? How can you manage to figure out how to live in the world without feeling compelled to shout it down every day? Meditation might be a very good start.

And you need to find some people who just love you for you, as a person separate from ideology or beliefs. If people think your views are sick or deranged and you're not a NAMBLA member, you're hanging with the wrong people. I think it's ok to try to find some people who will just accept you for who you are. Who will connect with you in a way that goes beyond what you believe and whether either of you can convince the other that you know Who's Boss. Maybe, for this, try volunteering.

For both, probably some therapy.

But I really believe that there's a level of connectedness and interaction and care that has nothing to do with your beliefs or anyone else's, and that you're so hung up on the "belief" stuff that you're alienating yourself from the things you do share with other people. I don't think you need a significant group of people to validate you. I think you just need someone to see you for you.
posted by liketitanic at 10:19 PM on January 24, 2010 [32 favorites]


The problem is that my worldview, I guess, or some major parts of it, are more and more vividly conflicting with some of the most ubiquitous messages in the world around me.

First thing is go rent They Live.

Second thing is to read Catch 22.

Third thing is to meditate a lot on this thought.

Fourth thing is to realize that there have been smart, alienated people since there have been people, and that feeling pain from exposure to popular media or ordinary people's viewpoints is part and parcel of living in a society that's apparently doing its level best to drive itself off an ecological cliff while keeping its collective hands clapped firmly over its collective eyes.

Fifth and most important thing is to reality-check your beliefs. It's all very well being the only guy who Actually Knows What's Going On, but as I can personally attest, that view can land you in psych ward if you let it grip you too hard. If you want to indulge in a little sanctioned chatfilter, mail me (address is in profile, prefer Gmail to MeMail).
posted by flabdablet at 10:20 PM on January 24, 2010 [8 favorites]


Creative internet searching will generally find you a group of people who agree with your beliefs. And I do mean, ANY belief. It may be, however, that what you believe is outmoded, proven false, generally considered irresponsible for the world at large, or possibly just completely frivolous. Everybody deals with that in their own way. Your search for people who share your worldviews wll almost definitely lead you to ways people cope with these issues. It's up to you to choose a healthy coping mechanism, too.
posted by Mizu at 10:29 PM on January 24, 2010


Some thoughts...

1) It's not always about being right. Some things in life are simply unknown/unknowable. Some things in life are neither right nor wrong. Being right doesn't guarantee happiness, nor is being wrong a guarantee for unhappiness.

2) Logic is a process, not a guarantee to the right answers. Two people can think logically and still reach different conclusions, depending on which premises they're working off of. So, if you've reached a conclusion that's different to other people, it doesn't necessarily mean that you are irrational; perhaps you just know or realized something other people haven't, or are taking into consideration something that other people don't.

3) We're not always rational. We're humans, not machines. Irrationality is a feature, not a bug.

4) Feelings are never wrong. Don't try to fight them. Acknowledge your feelings, let them be, then try to understand why you feel the way you feel. If you can find the root cause, you might find a way to address it.

5) If you're hoping for other people to validate your worldview, it's probably because you have doubts about it yourself. If that is the case, ask yourself why you have doubts about it. If you can actually believe that your worldview is right for you, you might not feel the need for validation.

6) Go see a therapist, though take the time to find one who's right for you.
posted by ryochiji at 10:29 PM on January 24, 2010 [6 favorites]


Is your worldview not shared by the entire western world, or just the part you live in? I am somewhat similar in that the fact that I am a queer positive radical feminist means I would find it frustrating and crazy-making to live somewhere like rural southern America, or even parts of the UK (because of the differences in feminist theory and practise). Would changing your locale to a more progresive/agreeable area "save your sanity"?
posted by saucysault at 10:39 PM on January 24, 2010


I can't help but read your description -- and I did read most of it -- and think of The Catcher in the Rye. I wonder how you interpret that book.
posted by sbutler at 10:50 PM on January 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


I was going to memail you about what your particular beliefs are. Anyway, I have your same problem and I have resolved not to change myself - for it is the world that needs changing. My own weapon against it is poetry. But my recommendation is to find some kind of expression for yourself that is self-validating - whatever works.

You don't have to change the world, but get yourself out there in some way, even if it's only in your head. Western culture is a sophisticated force of isolation against its Others, to the point that you really need to find some way to feel like you exist while living in its painful underbelly. In general, I wouldn't try too hard to find this in other people. They will probably just make you feel like you're wrong / crazy. Chances are they will try really hard, and they will win, as you sink further into dissolution.
posted by flavor at 11:17 PM on January 24, 2010 [2 favorites]


I have certain feelings, beliefs, and opinions that don't seem to match those of the rest of the Western World. I feel like I'm going crazy. What, if anything, can I do to deal with it?

Try reading some good philosophy and history of western thought - you may find that it is a lot more dynamic and accepting of strange new ideas than you think right now. Or you could just discard the importance of the "Western World," as a relic of 19th century imperialism. We've been globalizing for a while now, and that globalization process has been breaking the shell of the "Western World."

Stop taking yourself so seriously

That too, but it may take time.
posted by b1tr0t at 11:20 PM on January 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


I've been deliberately vague about what these beliefs and feelings are because I know this is already leaning toward chatfilter and I'm afraid turning it into a specific discussion of a subject would push it over the line.

Discussion of the subject would give the question clarity thus providing more focused answers as well as reality testing.

As it is written, it is too vague.
posted by mlis at 11:34 PM on January 24, 2010 [2 favorites]


I think it would be easier to answer your question if you did get more specific about what your beliefs and feelings are. Then people could tell you if maybe they think that too, or point you to specific communities that share your belief, or even just verify that you are indeed just crazy (hey, at least you'd know).
posted by Jacqueline at 11:34 PM on January 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'm going to guess that you're probably lonely, and your 'intellectual' problems are really just symptoms of, well, not having enough friends, not getting along with people, not going on dates, etc. Personal experience here, when a person is not succeeding by social metrics, they tend to displace their frustration/loneliness/humiliation... for smart people, an extremely intellectualised and bitter worldview often results.

My advice? Take up a sport that puts you into contact with other people - something with socialising and competing. Take up some hobbies - take a cooking class or a life-drawing class. Work on a skill that other people will be impressed by. Become passionate about something 'frivolous' - take some of that black energy from your anti-society-ising and put it into something basic and human.

Because, what else is there? Society as a whole is not going to accept your opinions. You can either fume away and spend your life silent and withdrawn, screaming and foaming on the inside, or you can accept the terms of human existence, flawed as they may be, and try and make the most of it. Because you no one is going to change the terms for you, no matter how much sense you make.

This is advice I came up with for myself that I'm parcelling out here, so don't worry - you're not alone.
posted by schmichael at 11:39 PM on January 24, 2010 [7 favorites]


Oh, and just in case I didn't make it clear enough that I speak from personal experience:

Yes the question I wrote makes me cringe a little, but it was good to get it out of my system, and the answers were very good as well.
posted by schmichael at 11:43 PM on January 24, 2010


I can see two potential things that […] might be solutions to the problem
There's a third route, which is to be less disturbed by the fact that you think differently about some things than most people. I think the best path is likely to combine all three approaches, honestly, though of course I have no idea what your differences actually are.
What is the right thing to do? Where should I start?
The AskMe Magic 8 Ball says therapy. This is something therapists are good for: helping you untangle your thoughts and figure out where you stand w.r.t. the rest of the world. Don't be afraid to switch therapists if you don't seem to be getting along with the first one you see. It seems to me there are a handful of basically independent questions you could bring to the therapist: Are there other people who think like me? Should or shouldn't I try to change what I think (i.e., is it "sick and wrong" or just different and OK)? Is there a way to feel less upset or alienated by this?
posted by hattifattener at 11:48 PM on January 24, 2010


I was going to write, "Stop giving a shit. Worked for me!" But schmichael's third paragraph puts it more eloquently. Society is almost certainly not ideal for anyone, and I'm pretty tired of trying to bend it to my beliefs (and I'm only 26). I'm just making the best of it now.

That said, I concur with previous posters that the specifics of your worldview really matter, and you should let us know.
posted by McBearclaw at 11:49 PM on January 24, 2010


Yeah, your post reads a little but like self-induced conflict, given that you provide absolutely no real clue about what sort of "worldview" you have . . . and thus no one can really provide any direction for where you might want to go with that specifically, or how. I lived through a war and massive personal upheaval at a relatively young age; as a consequence my worldview seems (at times) wildly at odds with the world around me. Yet still I cope. Is your worldview more extreme than mine? Beyond what society could handle? Or are you simply missing something that fix your conflict with ease? No one can really just venture a guess - you clearly need to open up. Or talk to a therapist. But the former is cheaper.
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 11:51 PM on January 24, 2010


Well of course you're going crazy, you hate conflict yet you've wrapped your identity around a worldview perpetually in conflict with your environment. If my amateur research holds any weight here, the odds are that identity loses this battle and it commonly results in prison and/or suicide.

And I would caution you about finding people who agree with you as a simple solution. The more similar people are, the more glaring their differences.
posted by rhizome at 11:56 PM on January 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


I have certain feelings, beliefs, and opinions that don't seem to match those of the rest of the Western World.

So does everybody else. This is what makes it a world, rather than a clone farm.

There's no benefit to believing and thinking the same as everyone else. Quite the opposite, in fact.
posted by rokusan at 12:19 AM on January 25, 2010 [2 favorites]


Regarding what you said about hating conflict... is this part of your problem? For example, my sister so hates conflict that no matter how much something makes her angry, she will hold her tongue and later send a nasty email. This after-the-fact confrontation towards someone who previously didn't have the first clue that she was upset of course makes the situation worse all around, by giving off a passive-aggressive vibe and the fact that you can't judge tone by email. Some things really are better solved in person or at least on the phone.

I know you said your situation is not really interpersonal but with the world in general, but that example sprang to mind.

There will always be some kind of conflict and you have to figure out how to deal with it... to choose your fights... when to take action about something and when to let it go.

Another example I just thought of... I used to be a diehard Christian. I was in conflict often with the people who weren't, and internally with things my church frowned upon, like watching secular TV shows that might feature rated-R content. Now I'm agnostic and I still have conflict often with the Christian point of view. And believe me, many beliefs I held before have been completely reversed.

This may not entirely be relevant (someone else may be able to expand on this), but have you read up on cognitive dissonance?
posted by IndigoRain at 12:30 AM on January 25, 2010


Well, there's not much to say here, actually.

First, there is no such thing as 'the Western world.' If you think there is such a thing, feel free to define it; I haven't seen anyone pull off that trick yet. Like everyone else who uses the phrase 'the Western World,' you're generalizing important issues until they become so incoherent that they're meaningless. Often people try to lay down a basis here by saying that 'the Western world' believes in 'rationalism,' as though there weren't thinkers in 'the East' who believe in rationalism, and as though there weren't thinkers in 'the West' who don't. Again: not a coherent distinction.

Second... well, more importantly, you say this:

Xezlec: “I've been deliberately vague about what these beliefs and feelings are because I know this is already leaning toward chatfilter and I'm afraid turning it into a specific discussion of a subject would push it over the line.”

Sorry, Xezlec; I know you're trying to do this right, but you did exactly the opposite of what you should have done. "I believe X; how do I ground my worldview / find people who agree with me / etc?" would have been a great question, because it would be an answerable one that we could begin to try to work on. "I believe something I won't mention..." is an impossible question to answer, because it's so vague that we have no idea what you're talking about. I know you meant well, but the rule about chatfilter is primarily: make sure your question is answerable. (It would indeed have been wrong if you'd asked: "do you agree with X, a debatable philosophical premise?" because that would've been practically unanswerable - we couldn't do that here.)

Can you just please tell us what you're talking about, so that we can try to answer? I don't think it'll be chatfilter, but this question, as vague as it is right now, might not stand with the mods. They'll probably have some pointers, but if it comes up next time (or if you have time now) you might want to add some details, while still making sure you're asking a practical ("what do I do?") rather than a philosophical ("what do you think?") question.
posted by koeselitz at 2:09 AM on January 25, 2010 [5 favorites]


For me, all it took was moving away from my small hometown and moving to New York City. Not everyone here is 100% "my tribe," but it's a tolerant enough space that I don't feel the difference that acutely. Or, it's a place that doesn't HAVE one 100% of anything. Everyone's doing their own thing and no one cares too much as long as you're not a dick about it, so it's all good.

But yeah, just moving to a place where there wasn't so much of a "me vs. them" population and mindset helped.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:32 AM on January 25, 2010


What shall we make of those who do not agree with consensus realities of others, or of the society they live in?

Children have sometimes been described or viewed as "inexperience[d] with consensus reality,"although with the expectation that they will come into line with it as they mature. However, the answer is more problematic as regards such people as have been characterised as eccentrics, mentally ill, divinely inspired [disambiguation needed] or enlightened, or evil or demonic in nature. Alternatively, differing viewpoints may simply be put to some kind of "objective" (though the nature of "objectivity" goes to the heart of the relevant questions) test. Cognitive liberty is the freedom to be the individual's own director of the individual’s own consciousness and is fundamentally opposed to enforcement of the culturally accepted reality upon non-conforming individuals. Effects of low cognitive liberty vary from indifference to forced-medication and from social-alienation to incarceration to death.


The preceding comes from the wikipedia page for Consensus Reality which, if nothing else, should show you that your problem isn't unique.

I solved it for myself by becoming a therapist.
posted by Obscure Reference at 4:45 AM on January 25, 2010 [2 favorites]


First, congratulate yourself on being a freethinker. It's not that easy to conjure your own mindset in a world so anxious to impose its own upon you. So the fact that your thinking is at odds with "the western world" (or your perception of it) can be seen as a victory. Second, as voiced above, know that it's highly unlikely you are unique in your feelings. The Internet has become a forum for every sort of "aberrant" thinking imaginable, and if you really fear isolation, by all means try some searches for the like-minded. You may be surprised. Third, try getting away from people a bit... take a walk in the woods, in the desert, through the snow, whatever you can get to. Breathe deeply, listen to the wind, marvel at a leaf or rock. Get outside of yourself. Communing with the earth is a healthy thing. And last, keep in mind that if individuals never diverged from society's conventions, there would be no progress, no revolutions, no inventions, no innovation. It can be painful and lonely being different--but perhaps you may be a catalyst for someone else's refreshed worldview.
posted by kinnakeet at 5:55 AM on January 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


America and particularly Texas are founded on independent opinion. Anyone who tries to limit such independent thought are not good Americans, IMHO. Granted there are ethical limitations. And just as you have a right to thinking against the grain, everyone has an unfettered right to believe whatever they wish even if it is the mundane status quo. Religious minorities should not be able to have the power to prevent me from drinking and secular minorities should not be able to prevent me from praying if that is what I want to do.

I think if you are looking for validation, social networking on the internet is the next best choice if you can't find it in real life. In real life, you don't necessarily have to find people that agree with you - as long as you hang out in a circle which respects differing opinions they will respect you. On your end you should conversely have the respect for different opinions. I enjoy a world where there is a difference of opinions as long as it is not blown out of control.
posted by JJ86 at 6:11 AM on January 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


Find a way to care about people as people, separate from ideology and beliefs. Then for a sense of fellowship, find others who do the same.

For example, try providing service to people who are truly suffering, and see whether "reducing suffering" doesn't become a compelling goal that unifies you with those you're working with.
posted by salvia at 6:26 AM on January 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


If you like reading, here are some texts I have enjoyed that made my thinking more sober:
  • Richard Rorty's essay Trotsky and the Wild Orchids,
  • same Rorty's book Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity,
  • Alan Watts's The Wisdom of Insecurity, and
  • Benjamin Hoff's The Tao of Pooh.
But yes, it's hard to be helpful without knowing something more about the nature of your obsessions. That first essay is really beautiful though so you should read it in any case!
posted by mbrock at 7:12 AM on January 25, 2010 [2 favorites]


Maybe you need to seek out other cultures and develop your ability to be a happy cultural outsider. For me, the "I don't fit in" feeling loses its power when I'm immersed in a different culture.

At home, I'm "supposed" to belong to my birth culture and the fact that I disagree with so much of it makes me a weirdo. But when I'm the only one of my kind in some other culture's territory, "I don't fit in" makes perfect sense and loses its frustration. Of course I don't fit in. I'm from a very different background.

So you might try immersing yourself in another culture, either by traveling or just by seeking out very different groups in your home area. Learn to use "tourist brain"--observe without judging: "That's how they do it here." Then, when you get back home, try to keep your "tourist brain" going and just observe without judging.

Differences in values and beliefs are cultural differences. If you can let go of your need to be "right" you'll be a lot more comfortable everywhere.
posted by PatoPata at 7:49 AM on January 25, 2010 [1 favorite]



Disciple -- Are there ways for gauging one's spiritual strength?
Master -- Many.
Disciple -- Give us one.
Master -- Find out how often you become disturbed in the course of a single day."
-- Anthony DeMello, SJ


Maybe the problem is not in how different your beliefs are but how tightly you hold them. Your expectations and self-talk seem to be causing you much stress.

If "Western" thought irks you, maybe some "Eastern" thought might soothe you? Seek silence. Try to hold what you believe a little more lightly. See the plank in your own eye before crusading against the splinters in the eyes of others. See the world and people as they are, not as they "ought" to be, nor how they fall short of your expectation. Be more gentle with others, the world, and especially with yourself.

And then, live free and do your own thing. Let others do theirs.
posted by cross_impact at 8:04 AM on January 25, 2010 [2 favorites]


OP, I thing the solution to your problem is different than you think – it may just be that you need to connect to people (work with me, here).

It’s kind of hard to give suggestions if we don’t know what your beliefs are, but part of me believes that most people, while growing up, take all the incoming information (what they see around them, news, peers) and try to from their own conclusion. Often times, parts of that belief system will not conform to the world around them. I remember the nonconformity of my belief system making me feel as if I were different, etc., although I don’t think it bothered me as much. Some of my belief systems led me to the conclusion that a “world citizen” view was the way to go, not something dominated by American culture.

So I truly tested it. For me that meant a few years in the Peace Corps – because if I “rejected” American culture, then another culture may offer the solution, right? In the end, I found that the other culture did not offer an answer, either. (Here is an example: I thought I could be open and accepting of other cultures and beliefs, no matter what. Okay, so if the culture believes in polygamy, and then you have men that walk up to you and tell you “you are mine”, well, you realize you don’t accept other beliefs and cultures in their entirety). I also found that I connected to people from my own culture much more. Finally, one of the highs for me of my experience overseas was realizing that “I don’t connect or understand my culture” feelings is just part of being a young person forming their own beliefs, regardless of culture. (Someone close to my age at the time, from the country that I was living in, told me how he didn’t believe X,Y,Z, etc, but believed these other things – I realized I had a lot more in common with this person that most people I’ve run across – but it was because of where he was at the time, and those feelings “I don’t connect”, “I’m different”, and “here is my own belief system” was a human condition for people resolving their belief system with their culture). I'm advocating that you experience this -find the culture that you think is similar in its beliefs and live there - test your ideas.

A couple other ideas that may help you:

• Are you sure that it isn’t the workplace and people around you or the place you live? Sometimes I’ve changed the workplace, or moved, and that makes a world of difference.
• Are you reading widely (books, stories, newspapers from around the world) – you should find some form of your belief system – sometimes it is fun to see where those things go. I noticed that existentialism and surrealism seemed to be driven by feelings of separation and a disconnect with culture - and some of the books and art that was created out of this was incredible.
• (Nthing the suggestions to write or create something). Why don’t you try to create something (ie, perhaps write something…a story…that contains elements of what you believe) and see if it get can get published. Or, share it with friends, they will love it and in validating your story are also validating your belief system.

On preview, Patopata suggested something similar, but I’m saying take it the next step – live in the other culture. okay, I’m a slow typer
posted by Wolfster at 8:08 AM on January 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


Western culture, to the extent that that phrase has any meaning at all, is vast. Westerners, to the extent that that is still a useful term, aren't monolithic. Consider, for example, the various and often opposing camps vis-a-vis the Enlightenment, or modernism, or post-modernism. Anyone from the west who exposes any combination of views about any combination of these trends is still a member of western culture. If you see yourself as in opposition to the Western World, in toto, your conception of the Western World is too simple, too uniform, too monolithic.

That's a fancy way of saying your views are probably not as unique as you think they are. You would have had to survey a lot of discourse in order to arrive at that opinion. And, I suspect, if you'd done that, your view of western culture would have already grown to the extent that your view of yourself in opposition to it would have fallen by the wayside.

This isn't to say that you might not be some sort of intellectual outsider, on some scores, or to some extent. To the extent that you are, you have to learn to buffet your own ideas with reason (assuming you accept reason) and have confidence in your views, if they are sound. You may well feel lonely to the extent that you're unable to find others who share your views, but that's the price of thinking for yourself.

One very important thing I learned, probably too late in life, is that you don't have to agree with people (politically, religiously, philosophically) in order to like them and enjoy their company.

Here's a motto to paste onto your monitor, from Bakhtin: "What would I have to gain if another were to fuse with me? He would see and know only what I already see and know, he would only repeat in himself the in-escapable closed circle of my own life; let him rather remain outside me."

On preview: travel.
posted by wheat at 9:00 AM on January 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


You don't need to pay attention to popular media. The internet makes it really easy to compile your own media sources that you do want to pay attention to. So don't worry about popular media.

If you can't take all of us ordianry people and our viewpoints (it must be tough being such a big great deep original thinker) then I would suggest you move somewhere away from us and live off the land. If you worry about living off the grid being hard because you wouldn't have money / food / clothing / electricity / running water / or anything of that sort, then you really aren't in opposition to what you call "the Western World". You are really then in opposition of "going out and making friends with people who share your values."
posted by WeekendJen at 10:19 AM on January 25, 2010


I don't mean this flippantly: either there is already a substantial population of people who believe as you do, or you are pretty seriously crazy. Conversion is tough, but congregation is not such a stretch (if you'll forgive the religious metaphors).

There are too many people, and too many of them far smarter than you or I, for any really intellectually consistent worldview to have a population of one. I can't help but notice that first, your question seems to even address the possibility that people who believe/feel as you do are already out there, and second that, while you provide possibly valid reasons for it, you manage to not state what you're really talking about in any form that it could actually be subject to response and critique. For all I know you believe that the Krellan Imperium really exists and that you are the only son of Lord X'lhtpauxgh. Maybe you need to start finding contexts to air these views and get a reading on whether you just haven't found your crowd yet, or alternately that you need some professional support.
posted by nanojath at 10:54 AM on January 25, 2010


I have more-or-less the same problem, and I'll just tell you what I've learned in my own life: you will not be able to fake it. You can certainly spend your whole life trying to be "normal" with nothing but cognitive dissonance to show for it, but if you truly have a divergent worldview, you're not going to be able to "change your beliefs and feelings to conform to societal norms". Seriously: this is nothing more than a recipe for life-long mental agony.

However, all is not lost. While this world is not very good at accepting difference, it's surprisingly good at tolerating difference; you may be underestimating the amount of leeway you have before the hammer comes down. I agree with those above: others like you are probably already out there! I don't know what your worldview is, but you may very well be able to express it in certain company and/or arenas (in art, over the internet, with a minority group, etc.)

Especially art. Art is near-total freedom; art is the way human beings build worlds of their own, which play by their own rules. Paint something. Break something. Draw. Sculpt. Dance. Write a song. Write an album's worth of songs. Write a book -- hell, write a manifesto. Go ahead, tell the whole world where it can stick its bullshit "values". You don't have to show what you create to anyone, but if you put your own worldview into creating it, it may help you come to terms with yourself. As for the internet, never underestimate the power of anonymity and/or a new psuedonym... and if you're comfortable with the idea of showing others your work, combining internet anonymity with your art might be a great way for you to spread your ideas and meet like-minded people.

At any rate, I think you should read Thus Spoke Zarathustra, especially The Three Metamorphoses (a good commentary is here). You're not alone in this boat; at least one very influential Western thinker considered your problem to be one step on the road to great things.

Please feel free to contact me via Mefi Mail, if you'd like to get more chatfilter-y.
posted by vorfeed at 11:11 AM on January 25, 2010 [3 favorites]


I kind of wonder if this is related to privilege and being part of a majority group, and just not understanding what it's like to be part of something that's subjugated or devalued by the dominant culture. Maybe Pedagogy of the Oppressed would be a good read for you.
posted by so_gracefully at 11:12 AM on January 25, 2010


Heh. The "Krellan Imperium" is from an old video game. I had forgot I put that in my profile.

First of all, thanks for all the great, insightful responses. This is an amazing thread. Sorry I can't respond in too much detail right now (I'm at work), but just quickly:

- I think most people's insights expressed here are at least partially right.
- Some people have suggested therapy. I guess this didn't immediately occur to me because I've had bad luck with it in the past. It might be time to try again though. I'm lucky enough to have excellent health coverage.
- Some people brought up the possibility that I don't have many friends. Interesting that so many people said that. It's totally true; I have basically one friend. The problem is that it's always been so hard to find ways to make new friends, though several people here made suggestions that sound promising and that I will try.

A lot of people were annoyed at my silence on what the actual issue is that I'm talking about. But actually, I'm amazed by what happened in this thread without my mentioning it: some people who I know angrily disagree with me over that issue actually sympathized and offered good advice because they apparently feel the same way sometimes from their point of view. I'm afraid that wouldn't have happened if they had realized we were in opposing camps. This helped me realize that even some of the people I disagree with feel that way, which is comforting in a weird way.

To those who are interested, maybe we could discuss the issue in detail later. Either here, or maybe somewhere else with a little less foot traffic. But I have to go try and get some work done right now.
posted by Xezlec at 11:15 AM on January 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


This helped me realize that even some of the people I disagree with feel that way, which is comforting in a weird way.

There's a saying in writing: the villain never thinks he's the villain. I would add, as a natural corollary: And maybe he isn't wrong about that. Another saying: everybody's the hero of their own story.

Perspective trumps all... or, in the words of an old friend of mine, "we're all just a bunch of squirrels, trying to get a nut."
posted by vorfeed at 11:41 AM on January 25, 2010


The question is vague enough that I may be misunderstanding, but I think I went through something similar. I hit upon several "eureka!" revelations that completely altered the way I see every little detail of the world I live in. For a few years I wondered whether I was simply insane, since this new understanding was apparently divorced from both western thought and eastern thought (I was raised Hindu and had never encountered anything like it.) But I eventually stumbled upon a neat term for this worldview ("nondualism", FYI) which accurately described my eureka moments and connected them to some nuanced readings of various eastern texts and mystical traditions throughout the world. This opened up the floodgates of reading material and assured me that I wasn't insane, I just hadn't found this specific train of thought anywhere else in my readings or communications with people. Keep looking and read as much non-western literature and philosophy as you can. There are plenty of arcane things out there that aren't obvious to anyone, even easterners immersed in Hinduism/Buddhism, yet have been kicking around in the shadows for centuries.

Sorry if I'm on a completely different tangent from what you're discussing!
posted by naju at 12:17 PM on January 25, 2010 [2 favorites]


Take philosophy classes? (I suppose you can find decent forums on the Internets discussing it, but I never find that to be as valuable as face to face discussions.) You will at least be in the company of others who are also engaged in posing these kinds of questions and maybe no one will validate your precise beliefs but you can learn how to.. ask good questions and follow lines of inquiry and get more clarity as to what you really believe vs society at large.

I don't see why you need therapy for this. That seems to me to imply that it's a problem for you to be questioning dominant cultural values and you ought to have it cured. It seems to me that one of our dominant cultural values is that asking these kinds of questions is uncomfortable and self-indulgent and to be discouraged, so you could probably just distract yourself by watching a lot of bad TV instead and end up feeling perfectly well validated. Or you could study philosophy for a while, and then watch a lot of bad TV, and then bad TV becomes more interesting because you can unpack the values expressed therein & how you agree/disagree with them.
posted by citron at 1:07 PM on January 25, 2010


I've been here. Perpetual anguish over, among other things that are harder to describe, the system of serfdom and slavery we call a capitalist economy. When I say "anguish" I mean anguish at my inability to conform to what I perceived to be a morally untenable way of being, or to find someone that even knew what I was talking about, much less commiserate or help me. I still think I'm right, but I got over myself as has been suggested and found a way to exist in this society as I'd like to without subjugating myself to someone else. No one has to understand why I do what I do or realize that I'm unwilling to have a boss or a landlord. Do what you have to do to live the way you think you should.

Now, having said that, I think it'd be much more useful if we knew what your divergent views were. If you're a strenuous proponent of the mandatory consumption of infants, for example, then yes, you're insane and need help. If you're a strenuous proponent of the free availability of barbershop quartets, then you're eccentric and should frequent some old-tymey barber shop.
posted by cmoj at 4:07 PM on January 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


OK, now I have time to say a little more. First of all, I think maybe some people got the idea that these opinions I have don't exist anywhere else. I didn't mean quite that -- the whole "the Western World" thing was meant a little hyperbolically. I was just saying that it's hard to find people who feel the same way, I feel bombarded by messages from other sides, and the community of people who lean in the direction I do, although it exists, is small, high in zealots, and seemingly not represented anywhere in the world of fiction and entertainment that I see around me. I guess it's worth going out and trying to find their home on the net, but I can't really live there, you know?

Another thing that bothers me is that there is a class of people in the world that I perceive as accomplished, intelligent, knowledgeable, and generally admirable (this group includes Metafilter) and that these people are disproportionately against me on this. In fact, some of my favorite mefites have been the ones that made some of the harshest, nastiest insults that I remember seeing on here against views somewhat similar to mine. Some of those were comments so filthy and cruel that I was shocked to see them here. There seems to be some really intense hatred over this.

In any case, I was thinking that, to discuss the details of what I believe/feel in all their un-vaguified glory, we need another venue. So, I will go into detail about the big, mysterious subject here.

I feel substantially better for even having had this conversation at all.

liketitanic: Your Christmas analogy is perfect. But I don't really need to shout people down. I have no problem, really, with the people who disagree with me. On the contrary, I am in awe of many of them, and I fully acknowledge that their way of thinking has its own truth, in a way, and its own importance, and its own strengths. What bothers me is that I guess I feel like some of them spend a lot of time preaching to others (including me) of the sick, damnable wrongness of thinking outside that framework, to the extent that they dedicate their lives to that effort, and win applause from everybody for it. This may become clearer in a more detailed discussion.
posted by Xezlec at 7:36 PM on January 25, 2010


What bothers me is that I guess I feel like some of them spend a lot of time preaching to others (including me) of the sick, damnable wrongness of thinking outside that framework, to the extent that they dedicate their lives to that effort, and win applause from everybody for it. This may become clearer in a more detailed discussion.

Then honestly it's a matter of learning to gently and firmly communicate to people that you aren't interested in hearing them out and that they need to back off. Then apply earlier advice for finding some new homeslices and some inner peace.
posted by liketitanic at 7:49 PM on January 25, 2010


Xezlec: “A lot of people were annoyed at my silence on what the actual issue is that I'm talking about. But actually, I'm amazed by what happened in this thread without my mentioning it: some people who I know angrily disagree with me over that issue actually sympathized and offered good advice because they apparently feel the same way sometimes from their point of view. I'm afraid that wouldn't have happened if they had realized we were in opposing camps.”

If I'm annoyed at anything, it's that you seem to trust us so little that you don't think we can talk straight about various stuff. Seriously, you're making me wonder if you're holding back not because you want to avoid 'chatfilter' but because you're afraid people will disagree with you.

I wouldn't mention this, but it seems like something that I think a lot of people have missed about your question that's been nagging me in the back of my mind ever since I read it last night.

“It's a purely intellectual problem, and not the kind of thing that bothers most people, I guess. But for me, it's intensely upsetting, and it has gotten to the point that any exposure to popular media or ordinary people's viewpoint's at all is starting to be painful. I feel like I'm going crazy... My identity is pretty wrapped up in these things as well. I hate conflict (despite how it may appear to some people) and so the constant awareness of this disagreement between me and all the values and ideals cherished by everybody around me all the time is hard to deal with... I can see two potential things that... might be solutions to the problem or at least help me feel better. The first is to find a way to get some significant group of people to agree with, or at least validate, some of my thoughts and feelings on the issue. This could involve either actually convincing people that my ideas aren't crazy, or just finding a way to sort of mentally reinterpret the dominant ideas as not being wholly opposed to mine. The second is to find a way to change my beliefs and feelings to conform to societal norms. One can imagine a spectrum of solutions in between these extremes as well... It's obvious which of those two solutions I would prefer, but I am sufficiently frustrated at this point that the other option is fine too. I have genuinely tried to accomplish both, and failed so far.”

The thing that I've been thinking is this: how is it possible that disagreement with other people causes you so much pain? I know that the tenor of modern discourse sometimes implies that any slight disagreement might be 'offensive,' but you can't really live as though that's true – it would be utterly and completely painful. People around you will think differently from you. That's okay. It's the preferred condition, in a way, I think: to learn to embrace that conflict and turn it to good.

If you're honestly finding it difficult to hear people talk that way, my suggestion would be to tell them so. Say it as loudly as you feel like saying it. Get used to conflict. Healthy conflict is in many ways the stuff of social discourse; and, used creatively, it can be a spiritual method of establishing who you are.

Also, if you feel pain because, as you say, you identify with certain ideals, and yet those ideals conflict with what the world is saying, then the most likely possibility is that you're afraid of mentioning those ideals because you are secretly well aware that they're not as lofty as your conscious mind would like to believe – that is, you're afraid that someone could shame you by telling you that you're wrong convincingly. You have to let go of that fear and actually speak up. And I think it's pretty clear that your absolute refusal in this thread to even name the ideas you're talking about is very much related to your inability to confront a world that disagrees with you.

Now, you're about to name the actual issue at hand in MetaChat, so I guess I'll go over there and see what it is. I say all this without having any idea what the issue is, but even without know it specifically, I think it's pretty clear that you need to learn to confront. vorfeed mentioned Nietzsche up above; I actually think Nietzsche would do you a lot of good, although I tend to recommend reading Daybreak rather than Zarathustra.
posted by koeselitz at 8:09 PM on January 25, 2010 [2 favorites]


[few comments removed - you can't take a side discussion to metachat. we can close this thread up or you can be more specific but those are your options at this point.]
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 8:41 PM on January 25, 2010


1. "Let the wookie win." In the face of an overwhelming tide of disagreement, just let the other side have their opinions and don't argue with them.

2. "Be the change you want to see in the world." Gandhi put himself out there, trying to correct wrongs he saw in the world. He was fairly uniquely prepared to fight them though, between his western education and his sensitivity (albeit sometimes a romanticized one) for his people. You may not be able to affect the world in grand ways like he did, but you can do it on a smaller scale. If you see economic inequity as a problem, volunteer in literacy programs. Education is power. If your passion lies elsewhere, do something, anything, to help it. Don't worry if it's a big enough difference. Just do what you can to help.
posted by Doohickie at 8:52 PM on January 25, 2010


(Xezlec: I understand you don't want to start an argument in this question; if you'd like to have another venue for discussion of specifics, as you said, metatalk is probably a good one. I've put up a post there about this, so we can talk about it there if you'd like without disrupting the flow of conversation here.)
posted by koeselitz at 9:12 PM on January 25, 2010


First of all, I apologize for trying to take the discussion elsewhere. I had typed quite a lot of text before it occurred to me to check back here, and I found jessamyn's post, and so I guess I've gone beyond annoying people now. That wasn't my intention.

The reason it's taking a while is that I have a lot to say and suck at saying things, so I'm trying to put everything in order and make it sound kind of good if I can, and it's turning into quite an essay, and I guess no one cares enough to read it so I should try to sum it up, and I'm afraid I already know what happens if I do that.

Which brings me to this comment:

If I'm annoyed at anything, it's that you seem to trust us so little that you don't think we can talk straight about various stuff. Seriously, you're making me wonder if you're holding back not because you want to avoid 'chatfilter' but because you're afraid people will disagree with you.

Actually I genuinely wasn't clear on whether I was allowed to post that kind of thing, but yeah, sure, that too. I do think you can talk straight, but I've had this conversation here before, and it was really horrible. I felt pretty badly burned. There were some seriously nasty comments made. Every time I came back to this site afterward, I could only feel angry, and made some stupid posts, and kept coming back and making stupid posts until I realized I was only hurting myself by doing so, and finally closed my account to end the temptation.

Then I came back in the hopes of addressing it more gently and maybe getting over it, and that appears to have been a mistake as well. I didn't mean to cause all this drama this time. I was really, seriously trying to be an adult about it this time.

But I'm not an adult. I'll come back when I am.
posted by Xezlec at 9:16 PM on January 25, 2010


Or at least, I'm not tonight.
posted by Xezlec at 9:17 PM on January 25, 2010


My guess is that it has to do with Xezlec's views on transhumanism and the mocking dismissal of transhumanism and transhumanists from the MeFites that seem to have thrown Xezlec off balance.
posted by deanc at 9:29 PM on January 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


My guess is that it has to do with Xezlec's views on transhumanism and the mocking dismissal of transhumanism and transhumanists from the MeFites that seem to have thrown Xezlec off balance.

The internet in general, and Metafilter specifically, is really good at orthodoxy, but not so good for exploring new ideas. Part of the problem is that despite the ephemeral nature of bits, the stuff you do on the internet is pretty much set in stone. (definitely, in the case of Metafilter. You can't even edit your comments.)

In order to have a really good intellectual discussion, you need to gather a few people in a comfortable place, and eliminate the time constraint as much as possible. That's why being a poor college student can be so intellectually productive. You often find yourself with people you respect intellectually (who may or may not be your friends), but what little money you have is too valuable to be wasted on alcohol or other entertainment. Instead, you can freely bounce ideas around, with reasonable certainty that you can catch them on the rebound and send them off in a new direction.

If you start to set those ideas in stone, or you severely limit the amount of time available for discussion, things tend very rapidly towards orthodoxy (or the absurd - but that's just another specialized orthodoxy)
posted by b1tr0t at 9:51 PM on January 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'm not sure that it's kosher that deanc just posted that, but I'm going to respond to it as if it's going to stay.

But yes, I with that in mind I have a few words of encouragement for Xezlec:

The entire western world is not against transhumanism, at least not as I understand it. There have been many advances in tech that have happened that a society truly against transhumanism would not allow.

What you are seeing as this mass of people who disagree are actually people who disagree with a straw man version of transhumanism in my experience. It's a similar situation to feminists who have had their movement straw-maned into being about "boy play is too rough, only talk about feelings blah blah blah" radical feminism.

You are merely ahead of the curve, and as more breakthroughs are made in the advancement of human potential with science transhumanism will become better accepted.

I would seek therapy, having the fact that you have such a strong opinion that many other people don't agree with depress you so may indicate a problem, but you aren't that weird :).
posted by The Devil Tesla at 9:59 PM on January 25, 2010


I have a lot of controversial opinions myself, and I was really looking forward to giving a carefully considered and sympathetic answer. But at this point, that's only forthcoming if you spell out your issue, in specific and mind-numbing detail.
posted by bingo at 11:01 PM on January 25, 2010


"Even if you are a Anarcho-Syndicalist Figure Skater Historian, there is probably a forum somewhere where people will share your passion and beliefs."

Not since they've schismed.

Look, Xezlec, when all of Western Civilization is against you on some issue, you either prove them wrong or accept that this is one of those cases where all of Western Civilization knows what it's talking about. We all have bugaboos and peeves, we all have areas of specialized knowledge that lead us to believe that everyone with half a brain should already agree with us. But we all also have the friend who lectures us on how telluric currents caused the Haiti earthquake. So if you want reasonable takes on whether or not your time is best spent changing folks' minds or ignoring impolite phrasings of a reasonable disagreement (where you might even be wrong, and due to learn something), you need to stop being coy and just ask the question you want answered instead of trying to dance us all into the right answer.

And also be aware that we can't solve all your problems. If it really is "Help me deal with being mad at MeFi when MeFi mocks my ideas," we're not ever going to be a good, safe place to get the answers that will help you (therapy might be). But hey, you can decide how serious this is and how much is just fluffy drama (because reading this made it seem like at least some is just fluffy drama, but no one really knows except you). That's what we're worse at, because it makes for more entertainment in answering, so we enable.
posted by klangklangston at 11:28 PM on January 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


I've looked at your posting history, Xezlec. You have many comments that are favorited by other users, in discussions of difficult topics. I don't think you're as unusual as you think you are.
posted by yesster at 12:10 AM on January 26, 2010


Academia is pretty good for things like this, especially at the doctoral level. If there are academics writing about this topic (and it's likely there are, if I understand your question correctly) you may want to seek them out, read their work, and consider taking classes with them and maybe becoming a professor yourself. There are some pretty radical folks out there doing really interesting stuff - stuff that is "vividly conflicting with some of the most ubiquitous messages" in society - and academia may be a good "home" for you. Keep in mind that you'll really have to stretch yourself if you go this route, but it might be something to explore.

If you don't know of any academics doing your kind of work, ask a librarian. They'll point you to the information without judgement; it's what they do. If you're uncomfortable going to your public library, consider trying a public university or college nearby.
posted by k8lin at 6:30 AM on January 26, 2010


It doesn't state any clear problem to be solved... I can't see any way for this to turn out well for anybody. It's almost like some kind of weird, twisted flameout. What a frigging mess.

I disagree. There is a question here, and there is a problem - it's seems clear to me, albeit not straightforward. And it doesn't matter that Xezlec didn't post his specific viewpoint, because this isn't about the specific viewpoint, nor its validity. Those issues are completely besides the point here. What Xezlec is asking for is help in dealing with his social problems.

I think this is a fertile topic for conversation, because here's Xezlec, he's unhappy and feels marooned by his intellectual viewpoint, he's feeling bitter and infuriated and harried, he's struggling with clashing cognitions. He's wrapped his ego up in the need to be accepted for his apparently unacceptable viewpoints, and that's a problem, and there are answers for this problem. Being proved wrong or right is going to do jackshit for Xezlec, there's a deeper set of issues at stake, about how he feels about himself, how he relates to others, how he fits into the world around him.

And I guess from there it's just a question of what Askme questions are supposed to be like - do they all have to be help-me-set-up-my-router or can they be vaguer and more personal like this? Not having been around here for that long I'm not 100% clear, however considering the 60 comments eagerly engaging with an apparently purposeless question, it seems like your opinion is not widely shared.
posted by schmichael at 6:59 AM on January 26, 2010 [2 favorites]


I was too tired last night, but people seem pretty encouraging, even with the subject mentioned a little bit. So, I'm going for it.

OK, it's related to transhumanism, though it really goes deeper than that. Let me try to explain the feelings that led me there.

When I was a kid, I found myself on the road a lot. My parents were split up between two states, and insisted on sharing me. I have hours of memories of the highways between Austin, TX and Sulfur, LA, of laying down in the back seat, alternating between sleeping and looking out the window, and of my mom remarking on how beautiful some of the scenery was. But I never understood that. My memories aren't of beautiful trees, grass, hills, and whatnot, but of a bunch of lumps of "nature stuff" underneath miles and miles and miles of power lines, bouncing symmetrically along catenary curves down an endless chain of poles. Street lights in the dark, pulsating rhythmically on either side of the car. Dependable mile markers, decorating the ugliness of chaotic roadside foliage with gleaming white integers, parceling the messy world into neat, countable little bundles of distance.

I used to sit and imagine all the energy flowing through the power lines, both the little ones on the side and the big ones passing overhead, all the natural sources they harnessed, and all the activity they enabled. It gave me chills to think about the wisdom that must have gone into the layout of those lines, how armies of engineers would have taken into account all the possible routes, found how much power would likely have to travel in each direction, and arranged things in just the right way. The gigantic, aluminum, geometric sculptures holding cables passing perpendicularly over the road: though I saw only a tiny section of their run, they were part of an incomprehensibly large system someone had mapped out for a purpose. It came from somewhere and went somewhere, in a straight, confident line. Workers must have spent days building each tower, and after thousands were completed, they all worked together, each piece doing precisely its job and nothing more, and a massive amount of energy could be sent where there wasn't any before. This emergent thing called a power grid represented productive, organized complexity on a huge scale, created not by accident but by design.

Computers have always been about the most aesthetically pleasing concept I could imagine, short of true artificial intelligence. Trees, on the other hand, have always been about the most unattractive. I never understood that poem about trees being "lovely". I tried, but could never see it. Just a bunch of stuff that comes out of the ground and tangles itself into some random shape, struggling to pull enough of the right kind of goop out of the ground and air to keep living its awkward life, existing for no reason except that it exists. I have a lot of trouble seeing things other than artificial systems of some kind as pleasing and desirable.

On top of that, it's hard for me to like a natural world that makes every creature within it suffer. In nature, just about everything eventually dies a horrible death. Things starve, and bleed, and get eaten by big predators, slowly devoured alive by insects, and killed by inanimate fungus gradually repurposing the matter comprising their internal organs for the new purpose of stinking and making spores. Things never go as planned. An herbivore chooses a mate, spends months eating for two, gives birth painfully, migrates all around, struggles to find enough to feed her young, barely escapes predators, and eventually, more often than not, the calf gets killed anyway. Bacteria are the most numerous living things, and those that live by causing the suffering of feeling creatures are particularly successful.

To me, the most rewarding thing in life is to figure something out using pure logic. To actually break a problem down and use the human power of reason to solve it. This is the quality that seems most different about us from the other animals. It's the least "natural" thing about us. And the truth is, I hate nature. I only like the unnatural aspects of humanity. I really only like being human because I'm able to do things like reasoning. I innately like the idea of using that power to create even more knowledge and abilities beyond what nature ever achieved. Achievement is the thing that feels "deep" to me. Aesthetics don't.

I know that the usual answer to the "meaning of life" is "love and art". But, for whatever reason, art doesn't do it for me. I find some of it mildly entertaining, but none of it feels "deep" or "purposey" like science and technology do. I'm not saying there's something wrong with people who are able to find deep meaning in those things. I'm saying that I want to believe that it's OK for me personally not to. I'm not saying I don't think there should be any artists. I'm just saying I think there should be at least a few scientists, and it bothers me that most people's ideal world, the standard depiction of blissful happiness, is somewhere between Native Americans and the Amish. There's no place for me in that world.

I'm not saying that I think that "ideal world" is realistic or that it's ever going to happen. I recognize that it is just a fantasy, and that most people acknowledge that since the industrial revolution has happened, we're pretty much stuck with it and have to move ahead rather than back. But what bothers me is that they find this fact disappointing instead of exciting. It bothers me that the things I treasure in life are the bane of so many people's existence. It is painful to me that the practical necessity of having people like me around is felt by others to be a curse.

I really don't have much help on this one. The engineers I know hate their jobs. There have been lunchtime conversations about the need to return to a purely agrarian society and how great that would be. The scientists I know feel similarly. My dad is a scientist -- a biologist. You can guess where he stands. What's the #1 movie right now? What is its core message? Sure, I know there are a few of us out there. I've even found web pages from people who count, admire, and photograph power lines. One of them won the "worst of the web" award. But these people aren't visible -- they don't make up the community around me.

Does that make sense? (Also, can you see why I'd be reluctant to post that here?)
posted by Xezlec at 7:31 AM on January 26, 2010 [15 favorites]


I'm not saying there's something wrong with people who are able to find deep meaning in those things. I'm saying that I want to believe that it's OK for me personally not to.
Most people do not find anything deep and meaningful about art. They may enjoy the results of art (eg, the design decisions made based on innovations in the art world), but it's not really an issue for most people. And lots of people don't have a back-to-the-land fantasy.

Now, I think your problem might be that you spend too much time online: the place is a(n ironic) haven for people with off-the-grid fantasies and people who complain about how technology has taken over our lives, as well as a haven for underemployed artists to vent about their lives and about how their work, which they believe to be the most important in the world, isn't appreciated. To be blunt, that's not real life, and the world, with its 6 billion people, is large enough that there are lots of people who feel the same way as you.

I was going to go into a big digression about how lots of people -- even scientists -- don't really like their jobs, and since it's a daily struggle to keep your income in line with expenses, a natural reaction is to throw up your hands and ask, "what's the point?" and start thinking that maybe farming, where you manage to cover your basic needs and expenses wouldn't be that much worse. And it's that last thing that's actually the point of what people are trying to get at, which isn't that different from what you want: people want autonomy and independence. The "back to nature" fantasies you're hearing about are manifestations of that need, and I suspect their needs in this regard aren't so different from yours.

To sum up: you are talking to all the wrong people, logical problem solving isn't all it's cracked up to be after 20 years, and while some people might like the outdoors a lot more than you do, you actually share more of the same beliefs and desires than them than you realize.
posted by deanc at 7:55 AM on January 26, 2010


I know that the usual answer to the "meaning of life" is "love and art".

Actually, there IS no "usual answer" to "what is the meaning of life." Some do indeed believe it's "love," yes. Others believe it's "family." Others believe it's "money." Others believe it's "42". But there IS no one universal answer.

But, for whatever reason, art doesn't do it for me. I find some of it mildly entertaining, but none of it feels "deep" or "purposey" like science and technology do. I'm not saying there's something wrong with people who are able to find deep meaning in those things. I'm saying that I want to believe that it's OK for me personally not to.

I work in the arts, and I hereby formally give you permission to not find meaning in art. You are absolved, my child. ;-)

But seriously -- people dig what they dig. People grok what they grok. What blows your dress up doesn't blow up mine, and vice versa. And that is all perfectly and utterly okay. The people who tell you otherwise are being boors.

I'm not saying I don't think there should be any artists. I'm just saying I think there should be at least a few scientists, and it bothers me that most people's ideal world, the standard depiction of blissful happiness, is somewhere between Native Americans and the Amish. There's no place for me in that world.

Then my original advice applies -- you are living in the wrong place and surrounding yourself with the wrong people, and all you need to do is find the right people. They are absolutely and positively out there, I promise you. You are not having a conflict with "society at large," you are only having a conflict with the people that are living in that one little community you are in. Fortunately, there is an enormous number of other communities out there, and all of them have slightly different worldviews. You will probably find you are more comfortable in one of those other ones. Not even just one -- you'll probably find a few that suit you better, where you'll find that OTHER people out there also agree that there should be some scientists in that ideal world.

I hate to say it, but your entire problem is boiling down to the fact that what you're feeling right now is kind of like you're the ugly duckling who just needs to go find the swans. The good news is, if your problem is that easily analagous to a fairy tale, then that means that it's incredibly common, and it's also easy to fix.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:09 AM on January 26, 2010


To me, the most rewarding thing in life is to figure something out using pure logic. To actually break a problem down and use the human power of reason to solve it.

You might enjoy Einstein: His Life and Universe

Computers have always been about the most aesthetically pleasing concept I could imagine, short of true artificial intelligence. Trees, on the other hand, have always been about the most unattractive.

Trees are fascinating if you know how to look at them.

Try Gödel, Escher, Bach and also The Algorithmic Beauty of Plants (scroll down for the PDF).

You would probably love the the logic and organization of the gardens of Versailles.

I find some of it mildly entertaining, but none of it feels "deep" or "purposey" like science and technology do.

[...]

I really don't have much help on this one. The engineers I know hate their jobs. There have been lunchtime conversations about the need to return to a purely agrarian society and how great that would be. The scientists I know feel similarly.


Science and engineering seem more deep and purposeful when you are consuming their results rather than producing them. Deep, abstract science is probably fascinating to be engaged in, but the intellectual bar for participation is pretty high. Engineering is a bunch of formalized hacks and heuristics that help you get to an acceptable answer rapidly. If you don't enjoy the end goal or the process, it can be a soul-crushing experience.

I recognize that it is just a fantasy, and that most people acknowledge that since the industrial revolution has happened, we're pretty much stuck with it and have to move ahead rather than back. But what bothers me is that they find this fact disappointing instead of exciting.

Don't let the naysayers get you down. Technologists have it very easy these days. Throughout the economic downturns of the last decade, money was still raised and new products were launched. Consider SpaceX. NASA can't find a direction, but there are multiple private groups working to cost-reduce space launch. Look at all the E-Book readers that are finally achieving some success. Look at hos music has been transformed.

Find the stuff you enjoy, and avoid the stuff that you don't. But keep an open mind - some of the really "new" stuff you are excited about may have their roots 500, 1000, or 3000 years ago.
posted by b1tr0t at 8:15 AM on January 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


One more: The Archimedes Codex.
posted by b1tr0t at 8:16 AM on January 26, 2010


Your explanation is coherent and eloquent. Thank you for sharing it. I think I would enjoy conversation with you - particularly on subjects like RepRap, which you have mentioned in an older post.

I hope you understand --- well, you obviously do, given your history here --- that you don't have to agree with people to have fruitful discussion and interaction with them. Try not to take it personally when people disparage your ideological/philosophical stance. You don't want to be the transhumanist equivalent of a religious fundamentalist, who takes every criticism of his religion as a personal affront/blasphemy.

In short, please stay involved here, continue to participate, and have patience with us.
posted by yesster at 8:28 AM on January 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


Hello, and welcome to meliorism. I discovered the term last year in a course on behavioral decision theory.

I wonder if the feelings you have about nature can be separated from your reasonable belief that technology and other artifacts of human intelligence can lead to improved existence. I appreciate nature from an aesthetic, sun-on-my-face, always-a-surprise experiential perspective (I guess I'm ignoring the suffering at that time - have to, or I'd go mad), but that doesn't mean I disagree with your central point.

A lot of people regard the back-to-primitivism ideal as naive, in my experience. You're definitely not alone, just surrounded by engineers, who can skew to the naive in larger-human-perspective matters; that's fine, their heads are full of other important things, but we tend to fall prey to the belief that since we're obviously smart, we obviously know better than other people about most things (see: some doctors, CEOs, college professors).

You may start to find your coworkers' attitudes unbearable in a few years, so do seek out some others with whom you can share your own beliefs, just so you don't feel you're going insane. You might even be able to find a job where you do tech as part of a larger effort you agree with, although that won't be easy.

Good job on your text, by the way.
posted by amtho at 8:32 AM on January 26, 2010


I really feel like most of us reasonably smart people are interested and invested in technology, regardless of the temporary agrarian fantasies we may harbor from time to time. Of the thousands of people I know in my life, only one of them is really interested and committed to living "off the grid." I don't know a single young person who is afraid of computers in the way older people often are. We're all collectively freaking out on the eve of Apple's tablet announcement. Many of the treehugger environmentalists I know are really excited at the possibility of viable lab-grown meat, contrary to any Luddite pretensions. I work at [major tech company] and it sure seems like most of us enjoy our jobs and geek out over new advancements in AI, natural language processing, swarm intelligence and similar areas.

I'm not sure where you're living and working at the moment. Speaking as someone who used to live there, you might find Silicon Valley to be a great fit for you. On good days, and working for the right company, the atmosphere can be charged with people who are excited about progress for the sake of progress.
posted by naju at 9:00 AM on January 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


Whoops, I should have said "Austin, Texas", and "Sulphur, Louisiana". I know not everyone here will recognize US postal abbreviations. And I am surprised and happy to see the nice comments here, but I just skimmed and don't really have time to read in detail right now here at work.
posted by Xezlec at 9:01 AM on January 26, 2010


As a child I had your point of view, only more so. I found power lines too material. I spent my time reading "pure" mathematics. When they discovered that number theory had actual practical applications, I was disappointed. It's a perfectly cromulent point of view. What's so important about others sharing it?
posted by Obscure Reference at 9:13 AM on January 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'm glad you elaborated. Going through your posting history, I had a hunch that this question was related to Transhumanism, but I didn't want to bring it into the discussion unless you did.

I can see how you walked away from the MeFi discussion on Transhumanism feeling alienated. But I've discovered that MeFites are vociferous online debaters who hold genuine affection for each other. I would not take this personally. People tend to state their positions much more strongly than they actually feel them. People rarely mean to tell someone they are wrong/bad for thinking differently, but it often comes across that way. Strive to give people the benefit of the doubt in this matter. It will help you breathe easier internally if you affirm to yourself that although people think differently they're not trying to force you into their line of thinking - even if it seems that way.

Deeply researching the history and roots of transhumanism will allow you to draw logical conclusions for other people. If you can say "Here's the philosophical underpinnings" and draw a straight line to your conclusions, it helps other people not feel like you're saying something so radical that they can't even think about it. Using history as a blueprint for discussions is really helpful when talking about radical things. Researching this will also, likely, be satisfying for you as well. Perhaps think about a MeFi post you could craft showing the evolution of Transhumanism as a school of thought. When did the word first appear? What context did it come up in? Etc. etc.

There are plenty of people who care very much about transhumanism. Seek those people out! It's always good to have people who agree with you telling you that you're not insane. I want to echo the others above who encourage you to stick around here. Different perspectives are useful to all of us, particularly when we disagree. Broadening people's view of the world is a noble thing, and I, for one, appreciate people like you who step out on a limb and ask me to think about something new.
posted by stoneweaver at 9:17 AM on January 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


I really don't have much help on this one. The engineers I know hate their jobs. There have been lunchtime conversations about the need to return to a purely agrarian society and how great that would be.

The agrarian myth (nature/farming = good, cities/industrialization = bad) is certainly widespread, but I wouldn't describe it as universal. It's been around long enough that plenty of people have noted it, analyzed it, and criticized it.

Googling for "agrarian myth" turns up Richard Hofstadter's The Age of Reform: from Bryan to F. D. R. Another writer who comes to mind is Jane Jacobs, whose best-known books have to do with cities and urban planning.

Hofstadter:
While early American society was an agrarian society, it was fast becoming more commercial, and commercial goals made their way among its agricultural classes almost as rapidly as elsewhere. The more commercial society became, however, the more reason it found to cling in imagination to the noncommercial agrarian values. The more farming as a self-sufficient way of life was abandoned for farming as a business, the more merit men found in what was being left behind. And the more rapidly the farmers' sons moved into the towns, the more nostalgic the whole culture became about its rural past. The American mind was raised upon a sentimental attachment to rural living and upon a series of notions about rural people and rural life that I have chosen to designate as the agrarian myth. The agrarian myth represents a kind of homage that Americans have paid to the fancied innocence of their origins.
Another book which I'd recommend to you--you'll probably find it more challenging to your world-view--is James C. Scott's Seeing Like a State. Economic historian Brad DeLong describes it as a powerful critique of
what he calls "high modernism": the belief that the bureaucratic planner with a map--whether Le Corbusier designing a city, Vladimir Lenin designing a planned economy after what he thought he knew of the German war economy, or Julius Nyerere "villagizing" the people of Tanzania--knows best, and can move humans and their lives around the territory as if on a chessboard, and so create utopia. Scott sees the "idea of a root-and-branch, rational engineering of entire social orders in creating realizable utopias" as a twentieth-century idea that has gone far to making this century a dystopia.
posted by russilwvong at 9:33 AM on January 26, 2010


Does that make sense? (Also, can you see why I'd be reluctant to post that here?)

Yes, and . . . not really. I mean, I don't agree with your perspective, but that doesn't mean I think you're crazy. So I think the issue isn't your ideas, but your desire to be understood or feel like you fit in. You express that through your attachment to your ideas--that a rejection of them must be a rejection of you, especially if/when it is a cruel rejection. I don't have to like what you believe to like you, or at least be kind and fair to you and open with you. To me, this is about your own feelings of connection, not about transhumanism--the actual content of your ideas (which aren't pathological) seems to me to be somewhat beside the point.
posted by liketitanic at 9:38 AM on January 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


On top of that, it's hard for me to like a natural world that makes every creature within it suffer. In nature, just about everything eventually dies a horrible death. Things starve, and bleed, and get eaten by big predators, slowly devoured alive by insects, and killed by inanimate fungus gradually repurposing the matter comprising their internal organs for the new purpose of stinking and making spores.

Paging Werner Herzog:

Movie Name: Grizzly Man (2005)
Quote:

Werner Herzog: And what haunts me, is that in all the faces of all
the bears that Treadwell ever filmed, I discover no kinship, no
understanding, no mercy. I see only the overwhelming indifference
of nature. To me, there is no such thing as a secret world of the
bears. And this blank stare speaks only of a half-bored interest in
food. But for Timothy Treadwell, this bear was a friend, a savior.


Movie Name: Grizzly Man (2005)
Quote:

Werner Herzog: I believe the common character of the universe is not
harmony, but chaos, hostility, and murder.
posted by availablelight at 9:45 AM on January 26, 2010 [3 favorites]


Now we know what you're discussing, it makes more sense - I was trying to relate your feelings to growing up alternative in a small town and being made to feel weird for liking and thinking what I did. Now I know this is something different - that you've reached out to the wider world and found they didn't share your view.

I didn't know anything about Transhumanism until just now, and I can't say I see it. I love the randomness of nature, and of history - the streets of London wiggle and curve where in US cities they are mapped out on a more logical path. I love the decay of buildings and the odd behaviour of animals and people. However, this doesn't mean that I wouldn't want to discuss it with you, now that I know this is something that fascinates you heavily rather than you being some kind of (apologies for using this, I'm just trying to demonstrate the kind of negative attitudes some can have on strong beliefs) crank.

If it helps, I work in advertising and often ads offend my personal sensibilities - a lot are what I'd consider to be sexist, but because they aren't hugely offensive except to those looking at them from a feminist perspective, they're not seen as enormously problematic. I've also become disillusioned with consumerism of late, after spending some time examining my own attitudes to consumption. However, at work I can - and am expected to - put any personal feelings to one side and do the job. If anything, a different perspective helps. Remember that even if you work somewhere that feels utterly contrary to your beliefs (and I'm not in that position, I should point out) you are still yourself at the end of the day.
posted by mippy at 9:46 AM on January 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


Riffing off of bitrot's comment:
In order to have a really good intellectual discussion, you need to gather a few people in a comfortable place, and eliminate the time constraint as much as possible. That's why being a poor college student can be so intellectually productive. You often find yourself with people you respect intellectually (who may or may not be your friends), but what little money you have is too valuable to be wasted on alcohol or other entertainment. Instead, you can freely bounce ideas around, with reasonable certainty that you can catch them on the rebound and send them off in a new direction.
now that Xezlec has explained things a little more, I'm reminded of the times that we did spend a lot of time in college bouncing ideas off each other that were similar to Xezlec's. My assumption would have been that as a programmer, Xezlec would have encountered people whose ideas fell in line with his own, at least in some corners of his world.
posted by deanc at 10:05 AM on January 26, 2010


Here's a good article from Wired on the future of manufacturing, in the vein of RepRap.
posted by yesster at 10:25 AM on January 26, 2010


Does that make sense?

Yes.

(Also, can you see why I'd be reluctant to post that here?)

Not really. I imagine there are plenty of people who don't feel any deep attachment to nature. Ditto for art. They might feel that they should, but, in practice, they don't. Music is a defining part of my life. I can't imagine not being able to create it. And I can't imagine not finding it interesting. But, you know what? There are people who dislike music all together. They're fairly rare, but they exist (Freud, evidently, was one of them).

What turns you on is science and logic. I don't see anything wrong with that. And I certainly don't see how you could misconstrue that as being out of step with the Western Word (tm). There's nothing unusual about applying science to increase human potential. Perhaps you're willing to run with that idea further than most. And that may well be out-of-step with how many see things, but there's no reason why that should bother you. According to the Billboard Hot 100, most people think Ke$ha's "Tik Tok" is a great song. So much for popularity being the standard of quality.

Here's a tip: the green and the blue are different, culturally. There's a lot of snark on the blue. Snark is against the rules here. That's why many people wanted you to state your question and quit beating around the bush. That was frustrating because they wanted to answer your question. Some people tinker with the green as some kind of interesting social experiment, where they post something vague just for the amusement of seeing people try to answer something unanswerable. It's a type of trolling, really. I don't think that was your intent, but it explains the frustration.

Also, concurring with what liketitanic said, this seems to be less about the content of your ideas and more about a desire for agreement with your ideas (or, possibly, of conflating your ideas with your self, and taking a rejection of one as a rejection of the other). That's certainly something many people can relate to. I'm not sure exactly what the answer to that is, other than to hold your own ideas more tentatively and not take a dismissal of one as a dismissal of the other.
posted by wheat at 10:41 AM on January 26, 2010


The engineers I know hate their jobs. There have been lunchtime conversations about the need to return to a purely agrarian society and how great that would be. The scientists I know feel similarly. My dad is a scientist -- a biologist. You can guess where he stands.

I don't think your view is really representative of humanity. Maybe it's confirmation bias, maybe it's that the people you know aren't representative of humanity as a whole, maybe people like to bullshit about stuff they don't really believe just to "try it on," if you will.

I am very much a nature lover. Taking walks in the woods is one of my favorite things to do. At the same time, I'm also a scientist (at least by training, though not by current profession) and have something of the scientific mindset. (I won't go into detail about how my views about nature differ from yours and why I think it's so wonderful, though I easily could, because that's not what you're asking.)

I would like to see more of our land returned to its natural state, but that by no means indicates that I'd like to see that happen to all of our land, nor that I harbor any fantasies about returning to a pre-industrial society. I like my electricity and my internet and my clean running water and my affordable mass-produced car and my high-speed limited access highways too much to give them up. In fact, I'm well aware that I can get to many of these natural wonders that I love so much precisely because of my mass-produced vehicle and modern roadways.

I know plenty of scientists and engineers who love their jobs.

I'm also reminded of an alcohol-fueled bullshit session with college roommates (nearly 20 years ago, for whatever that's worth) where we decided the world was going to hell in a handbasket and the global economy was going to collapse and we'd better all take up farming because that's all that would be left for anyone who wanted to sustain themselves. The reason I bring this up is we considered this a dystopian vision of the future, not a utopian one.

As for your dad, he may talk about returning to an agrarian lifestyle, but what's he doing, exactly? I'm guessing he's still a biologist, working with high-tech equipment, using the internet for research, has a car for getting to work, lives in his air-conditioned home, etc. He could go and live in a cabin in Montana with no electricity and no running water if he wanted to, but he hasn't. Actions speak louder than words. Or, as Alex Trebek put it, "Don't tell me what you believe in. I'll observe how you behave and I will make my own determination." For that matter, apply that analysis to everyone who claims they'd rather live in a pre-industrial society. You'll find very few whose actions match their words.

OTOH, it's entirely possible that I'm the one with the skewed view of human attitudes due to my own confirmation bias and knowing a non-representative sample myself.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 10:45 AM on January 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


Here is the most important, useful piece of advice I've been given on the subject: instead of trying to fix this problem that you have, stop, and try to understand what it feels like for you to be seemingly at odds with the world. Not in an intellectual way (though there's nothing wrong with that) but in a much more fundamental way - what is difficult for you about feeling like you're not "in tune" with others? If you come up with an answer, you don't have to mentally write it up in to a personal manifesto about How You Feel, you don't have to change anything, or try to suppress it - I'd just try hanging out with that feeling for a while. Are you afraid that you're fundamentally different in an immutable way? That other people are fundamentally not good people? That peace is hopeless because people are, on the whole, so incredibly judgmental and defensive?

Whatever it is that's motivating this sort of panic (and believe me, I do know what you mean) -- no matter what it is -- it does not necessarily need to be Fixed. The resolution lies in understanding the discomfort, your own nature, and the nature of all people.
posted by Cygnet at 11:03 AM on January 26, 2010 [2 favorites]


You're not alone -- I think a future full of big, shiny machine-people who fill their days improving the hive-mind sounds lovely. Don't blame me, I voted for Cavil...

That said, I also find a lot of value in nature and art and such. I agree with b1tr0t: I think you could come to really enjoy these things, if you approach them from the proper perspective. Trees, for example, are some of the most amazing machines on the planet. If we really were going to improve ourselves using technology, we could learn a lot from them. Same with bacteria, with fungus, etc. The inner workings of all of these things are amazing; they are, with respect to their surroundings, astoundingly perfect little machines, so perfect that they perpetuate themselves down through millennia, simply by operating in their environment. They are just as the power lines are: they are productive, self-organized complexity on a planetary scale. Given the long view, all of this "suffering" looks more like the operation of a huge, interconnected system bursting with complexity, power, and even (perhaps) a simple sense of direction, if only away from genes which harm fitness.

In short: if you investigate the interconnectedness of nature, and also the workings of biological life on the micro level, that might help you appreciate all of the seemingly-meaningless lives which fill the world. In particular, you should research emergence -- it's ironic, perhaps, but much of our recent progress with AI and the like has come from bottom-up, emergent systems rather than systems which are planned from the top-down. Chances are that your imagined future may be born from something which operates more like bacteria or fungus than like Multivac.

Frankly, it's hard for me to get your point of view, as I see a lot of beauty in brutality. I like decay and entropy and chaos; I like the fact that all things suffer and fall to dust. That said, I can tell you that part of the joy of these things is that they, in turn, embody order, just like ouroboros swallowing its own tail. Death comes out of life which comes out of death. Likewise, I think you can love order and still recognize and respect the meta-order inherent in disorder. This is a weird concept, but do you see what I mean?

As for art, there's no reason why it has to be primarily about aesthetics. For example, if you sat down and wrote out a short story about the powerlines, putting your heart in it from start to finish, you'd have a piece of art which shows other people the beauty of science as you see it. Same if you made a painting of them, just the way you saw them as a child, rendering all the trees as "lumps of nature stuff underneath miles and miles and miles of power lines". In a lot of ways, art doesn't have to be "deep"; it's just the process of creating things, and that can be as planned and purpose-y as you'd like to make it. In my experience, art (I primarily write) is a lot like coding... I get the same feeling of creation and of Putting Things Right out of it.

At any rate, I'm not saying you have to enjoy things like nature or art, or that you're any worse off if you don't... a lot of people simply aren't into them, and that's OK. But you do seem to be suffering from a perceived mismatch between you and the rest of the world, and that's not OK. I think you could resolve a lot of your mental pain and cognitive dissonance if you learn to integrate things like trees and paintings into your logic-based perspective, instead of rejecting them because they "don't fit". IMHO, your worldview is a wonderful one, and is more than big enough for all this stuff... you just need to find out where it slots in.
posted by vorfeed at 11:43 AM on January 26, 2010 [3 favorites]


Then my original advice applies -- you are living in the wrong place and surrounding yourself with the wrong people, and all you need to do is find the right people. They are absolutely and positively out there, I promise you. You are not having a conflict with "society at large," you are only having a conflict with the people that are living in that one little community you are in.

QFT. I don't really think most people want to go back to an agrarian lifestyle. I certainly don't. I love my modern conveniences, and you will have to pry my indoor plumbing, air conditioning, and high-speed internet out of my cold, dead hands. Pre-industrial society was dirty, smelly, and dangerous. I like nature, but I also appreciate the aesthetics of technology, and I really don't think there is anything wrong with you if you *don't* like nature.

I agree with the other posters that maybe your sense of self is a bit too wrapped up in having people share your views, but I also don't think that your views are really out of whack with the rest of society or even popular entertainment. Watch more Star Trek--there are a number of episodes across all of the series that explore the agrarian vs. technologist society issue, and they all pretty much come out either in favor of the technologist view, or at least on the view of "different strokes for different folks."
posted by DiscourseMarker at 1:33 PM on January 26, 2010


This thread and your eloquent description of your personal worldview has been thoroughly fascinating. You sound like a very interesting person with important ideas. I'm sorry that you feel alienated by the culture in which you live - I agree that folks living within the vast array of privileges afforded them by western industrialized society have an overly-romanticized impression of the "natural" world.
One of the most difficult essays I ever authored was the subsection of my M.Div. thesis related to the concept of "natural sin." The only response I could muster to the rampant horrors of the natural world was that they were somehow necessary. It felt like a feeble answer. I leaned on process and liberation thinking and explained that perhaps humans, in a bold move toward universal kinship and the beloved community, would someday develop technology to overcome the hurricanes and earthquakes. We have done so already with some diseases. It heartens me to know that there are people out there who are bound up in this belief. Having a pastor - or any religious person - telling you this might make your skin crawl - but I think, in a certain sense, you hold a kind of moral high ground. In fact, through a certain lens, you're interested in saving the whole world.
posted by Baby_Balrog at 1:40 PM on January 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


On top of that, it's hard for me to like a natural world that makes every creature within it suffer. In nature, just about everything eventually dies a horrible death. Things starve, and bleed, and get eaten by big predators, slowly devoured alive by insects, and killed by inanimate fungus gradually repurposing the matter comprising their internal organs for the new purpose of stinking and making spores.

The fact that you use words like 'primitive' to refer to the (highly complex) natural world, and bitch about Avatar's 'message' (which, sorry, isn't about a 'preference' for nature over technology so much as the inescapability of 'nature' itself) makes me think you're waving a false natural/artificial opposition around in order to avoid thinking about...um, something else.

Whatever the fuck happens, you're a body. You don't 'have' one, you are one. You don't reside 'in' nature, you're a complex component of (even more complex) it. You're a sack of meat with a cell phone. Whatever fantasies anyone has about 'escaping into technology' and complicating the definition of 'human,' the somewhat more important fact is that 'human' is a category slapped onto certain biological macrosystems after the fact of their function.

I don't care that you don't like trees; hey, I usually get nothing out of looking at nature too. But 'looking at' nature is in fact a false description. Staring at a tree is a mode of interaction that differs in degree, not kind, from cutting the thing down. I can't help thinking your 'massive psychological issue' isn't that you can't talk to people about your philosophy; it's that you're not listening to yourself as you actually are, and you're reading essential meaning into your proclivities instead of contextualizing them.

Well, here's an emphatic recommendation from me: read A General Theory of Love (re: the neurochemistry of interorganism connection), a decent book on complexity theory and organisms/ecosystems, and Mindfulness in Plain English, and start watching Dexter, which is nominally a serial killer suspense story but actually (in my wife's interpretation, which I've happily adopted) a story about a guy learning to live with Asperger's Syndrome and recognize his emotions not as impositions but as new, interesting forms of cognition. Emotions are only thoughts, man. Anyone who says otherwise is selling something.
posted by waxbanks at 2:34 PM on January 26, 2010 [5 favorites]


"To me, the most rewarding thing in life is to figure something out using pure logic. To actually break a problem down and use the human power of reason to solve it. This is the quality that seems most different about us from the other animals. It's the least "natural" thing about us."

Part of the problem is that you come across here as incredibly naive. You've set up a huge false dichotomy to justify a disagreement on what sounds like a rather superficial level with your peers. From what you're presenting them as putting forward, they're simply over-romanticizing nature. But then you're reacting by attempting to argue yourself beyond the bounds of logic. It comes across as a hubris of ignorance—very few people I know who are really adept with logic fail to appreciate its boundaries and limitations.

It sounds like you may be well served by a couple of things, moving from the specific to the broad: First, a course on philosophy that delves into Hume and Kant, both of whom present excellent arguments regarding the limits of logic. Second, cut your friends some slack. You're describing them as living technologically immersed lives, don't be surprised if they occasionally pine for the fjords. Third, realize that you're starting with emotions about technology and logic and trying to extrapolate from there into a worldview. Then you're trying to use logic to make yourself feel better about that worldview. This is an emotional conflict, and that means that you're going to have to work on an emotional level if you want to resolve it. Which is a little bit more than what AskMe can do for you, though you should be able to do it for yourself.
posted by klangklangston at 6:06 PM on January 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


Okay, having seen a sample of actual worldview, I'm modifying my advice. Don't bother with any of the popular culture stuff. None of that will actually change much for you.

The last two points, though - the serenity prayer, and reality-checking your beliefs - are still, in my opinion, going to be absolutely vital for you.

Note that there are two important classes of beliefs: beliefs about what you like, and beliefs about how stuff is. The ones I'm specifically advising you to reality-check, carefully and often, are the second kind. That's because if you're not in the habit of doing this, it's pretty easy to get the two kinds mixed up. Beliefs about what you like can kind of bleed over, via beliefs about how stuff should be, into beliefs about how stuff is that are sufficiently at odds with reality as to become a hindrance to your navigation of it. Reality will kick you in the head if you allow yourself to disconnect from it too much or too often.

There are five basic ways to react to any fact:
  1. With denial: wishing it were different, and suffering distress every time it proves not to be
  2. With skepticism: refusing to accept the fact as fact until the preponderance of evidence forces you to do so
  3. With equanimity: accepting the fact as observed, and learning to work with it or otherwise put up with it
  4. With inward action: change yourself such that the fact no longer applies to you
  5. With outward action: change your environment such that the fact no longer applies to you
These are pretty much your available options for dealing with just about any belief about how stuff is. And of these, the first one is generally the worst one. Not only is it the path of maximum distress, it's also the path toward increasing disconnection from reality.

In the case of the particular belief that's currently causing you distress (i.e. that most of people who create your local culture don't share much of your worldview): my best advice is to give up on method 1 and start working on variations of the other four, with special attention paid to method 3, until the distress goes away.
posted by flabdablet at 6:08 PM on January 26, 2010 [2 favorites]


I find your description of your worldview fascinating. I'm someone who often feels most "at home" in nature. When I sit on a patch of earth, I feel like I belong to it, in a way, and this has been a most comforting thought for me for as long as I can remember. For some reason, you are wired (pun fully intended) differently. That's okay! For a while there, I was afraid that your secret was that you were a pedophile or something that really isn't workable, but THIS we can work with!

Yes, you are allowed to hate nature, although, the one thing that troubles me about that is, like it or not, you yourself are a part of nature as much as any rock or bird or tree--flesh and bone. I see that is a source of some discomfort for you--being just another stinkable, rottable mess of organic processes. I'd just be worried that this could amount to some kind of self-hatred for you, some loathing of your physical self. That's no fun and would be a good reason to see a therapist, although I'm not sure this issue can be separated from your "nature sucks" philosophy.

IF you could learn to relax and embrace the sloppiness of your own natural, human self (at least a little bit) you might feel more at ease with yourself and others. Just an idea. I could be wrong.
posted by apis mellifera at 6:35 PM on January 26, 2010


Thanks for all of that stuff. So many very interesting perspectives here. I could spend hours following up on all these leads. I wish I could respond to everyone in the whole thread, but here are some things I noticed and particularly wanted to respond to.

I work in the arts, and I hereby formally give you permission to not find meaning in art.

Thanks, Empress! :)

It's a perfectly cromulent point of view. What's so important about others sharing it?

And that may well be out-of-step with how many see things, but there's no reason why that should bother you.


Well, as I had sort of alluded to (much) further up, it's not so much that I want everyone to share my view as that a lot of the time when I'm watching TV or a movie or reading stuff on the net, I feel like I'm being lectured. Like how there are so many stories that seem to be trying to teach specifically that these kinds of feelings are harmful (and maybe I haven't interpreted them all correctly, but, I mean, how often are the robots or UFOs the good guys?). Then, maybe even though the people I know are just expressing their views and not being lecture-y, I feel like they are, because I'm letting myself get all oversensitized to it. OK, I'm probably being a little paranoid.

Not in an intellectual way (though there's nothing wrong with that) but in a much more fundamental way - what is difficult for you about feeling like you're not "in tune" with others?

See above, but as for embracing that discomfort, I'm not quite sure whether I want to do that... it is, after all, pretty uncomfortable. Still, I guess what you're saying is that it is less so, and also kind of useful, if I recognize that that feeling of difficulty is something I share with everyone else and use it as a common ground thing in itself?

Googling for "agrarian myth" turns up Richard Hofstadter's The Age of Reform: from Bryan to F. D. R.

Hmm. I hadn't heard that phrase before.

I would like to see more of our land returned to its natural state, but that by no means indicates that I'd like to see that happen to all of our land, nor that I harbor any fantasies about returning to a pre-industrial society. I like my electricity and my internet and my clean running water and my affordable mass-produced car and my high-speed limited access highways too much to give them up. In fact, I'm well aware that I can get to many of these natural wonders that I love so much precisely because of my mass-produced vehicle and modern roadways.

I agree with this exactly. In fact, I'd be fine with humans cleaning up and then leaving Earth entirely and letting it do its own thing. Or taking the biosphere with us to seed more worlds -- then by the "Gaia hypothesis" interpretation of the world, we would be the Earth's genitals. XD

Likewise, I think you can love order and still recognize and respect the meta-order inherent in disorder. This is a weird concept, but do you see what I mean?

I think so.

As for art, there's no reason why it has to be primarily about aesthetics. For example, if you sat down and wrote out a short story about the powerlines, putting your heart in it from start to finish, you'd have a piece of art which shows other people the beauty of science as you see it.

Then it sort of is about aesthetics, I guess, but with the definition broadened to include any kinds of appealing emotions, including the ones I feel for those geeky things. And I guess that's what I was doing above.

This brings up another thing: I like some music a lot, but it's not the kind of music that people like my English-major friend seem to like. I like music that is complex and full of interconnecting patterns. The "soulful" content doesn't do much for me. My friend is kind of the reverse. I've even made a little music, though I kind of stopped as I realized that patterny dance music wasn't considered terribly respectable. If you're interested, here's some I put up a long time ago, and my soulful friend and I have collaborated before too.

I think you could resolve a lot of your mental pain and cognitive dissonance if you learn to integrate things like trees and paintings into your logic-based perspective, instead of rejecting them because they "don't fit".

I think I actually sort of have done that. I mean, I don't actively hate paintings, and I'm able to find some of them kind of interesting, and I guess biology is interesting when I'm forced to actually sit down and start reading something about it. Though that doesn't mean I'm not still bored at art museums or gardens or that I don't still feel annoyed by "dear God what have we wrought" sci-fi.

One of the most difficult essays I ever authored was the subsection of my M.Div. thesis related to the concept of "natural sin." The only response I could muster to the rampant horrors of the natural world was that they were somehow necessary.

My atheist's license will surely be revoked for this, but: having made the argument from evil a lot back in my more obnoxious days, I can tell you that your best bet is to go with the "good is defined as the overcoming of evil" thing. That's a strong, defensible position that necessarily explains any evil by the fact that it gave people something to struggle with. Then when the atheist whines about how cruel that is to the victims, you just brush it off with the "it's only temporary and they'll be in heaven when it's over so who cares" bit.

Just don't tell them I sent you.

The fact that you use words like 'primitive' to refer to the (highly complex) natural world...

Huh? Are you talking about another thread? I don't think I said that here. Half your post is about terminology. I don't really care about the terminology, so feel free to just mentally replace any errant terms with the ones I should have used. (That goes for you too, anyone who was bothered by "Western World" in the OP. "World around me", then?)

This particular sack of meat likes his Droid better than his meat. Go figure. My feelings don't have to make sense. (My rational claim does, but it's much more limited: I just claim that technology has enough benefits that we should keep it -- perhaps with some adjustments -- despite its problems.)

I can't help thinking your 'massive psychological issue' isn't that you can't talk to people about your philosophy; it's that you're not listening to yourself as you actually are, and you're reading essential meaning into your proclivities instead of contextualizing them.

I've reread that several times and can't decode it. Could you maybe dumb it down a smidge?

a story about a guy learning to live with Asperger's Syndrome and recognize his emotions not as impositions but as new, interesting forms of cognition. Emotions are only thoughts, man.

Whoa, I didn't say anything about emotions being impositions. Just that mine aren't the usual ones. Also, when I say "emotions" and "thoughts", I'm talking about different things. If they mean the same thing to you, then we're probably just using different terminology.


Again, thanks, everybody, for the great stuff.
posted by Xezlec at 7:57 PM on January 26, 2010


I'd be fine with humans cleaning up and then leaving Earth entirely and letting it do its own thing.

Two apparent beliefs that strike me as calling for some intensive reality-checking:

(a) humans are somehow not just another part of Earth "doing its own thing"

(b) humans can clean up and then leave Earth entirely
posted by flabdablet at 8:11 PM on January 26, 2010


Part of the problem is that you come across here as incredibly naive. You've set up a huge false dichotomy to justify a disagreement on what sounds like a rather superficial level with your peers.

Uh, sorry, I guess. When people talk about "false dichotomies", aren't they usually just saying that someone drew a dividing line where they didn't want one? I just don't know how to explain a thing without using categories and words. I'm sorry, but I'm not Shakespeare. As for "justifying a disagreement", I think this is about more than my peers -- what's on TV and stuff is a big part of it, and I don't think I quite get the whole "superficial" thing. It doesn't seem superficial to me.

But then you're reacting by attempting to argue yourself beyond the bounds of logic.

Huh? But what logic are you talking about? I mean I didn't even really put forth any logical argument here, I just said how I felt. I kind of skipped the logical thing because I figured it wasn't relevant.

It comes across as a hubris of ignorance—very few people I know who are really adept with logic fail to appreciate its boundaries and limitations.

Yikes. What did I say, exactly, that prompted all this "hubris" stuff?

Two apparent beliefs that strike me as calling for some intensive reality-checking:

(a) humans are somehow not just another part of Earth "doing its own thing"


I was saying we don't have to be if we don't want to. That's what spaceships are for.

(b) humans can clean up and then leave Earth entirely

Well, maybe you're not taking that as lightly as it was intended. I don't seriously think that would happen, not least of all because of energy and political cohesiveness requirements. More likely, I think, is that we will keep spawning off settlers to elsewhere but the bulk of the population on Earth will remain. You don't have anything to be defensive about. I already agreed that it would be worthwhile for us to pull back, ease up on nature, and decrease our numbers.

posted by Xezlec at 8:17 PM on January 26, 2010


When people talk about "false dichotomies", aren't they usually just saying that someone drew a dividing line where they didn't want one?

No, they're saying that somebody is trying to treat compatible properties as if they were incompatible. It's fine to draw a dividing line anywhere you like between black and white, but not so much between ice cream and Thursday.
posted by flabdablet at 8:38 PM on January 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


Back on track:

I think what I'm yearning for is ... for my emotions to be considered just "valid and OK" (i.e. not sick or deranged), even if no one else actually feels the same emotions that I do ...

Sorry if this is a bit Captain Obvious, but repeating it will probably at least do no harm: the only person whose opinion about your emotions is actually of any consequence is you. Nobody else feels your emotions; those are private. The only thing other people are actually capable of reacting to is not your emotions, but your behaviour.

Feeling whatever you feel, and owning those feelings, and being OK with yourself for feeling what you feel rather than beating yourself up about "going crazy", and still being able to act with wisdom even if doing so is hard because of what you're feeling: that's generally held to be a sign of maturity and good character.
posted by flabdablet at 8:49 PM on January 26, 2010


To me, the most rewarding thing in life is to figure something out using pure logic. To actually break a problem down and use the human power of reason to solve it. This is the quality that seems most different about us from the other animals. It's the least "natural" thing about us. And the truth is, I hate nature. I only like the unnatural aspects of humanity. I really only like being human because I'm able to do things like reasoning. I innately like the idea of using that power to create even more knowledge and abilities beyond what nature ever achieved. Achievement is the thing that feels "deep" to me.

You have been in the majority since the 1700s. For a sense of community, have you tried taking any engineering classes? (Apologies if you already said so above one way or another.)
posted by salvia at 2:35 AM on January 27, 2010


I don't really care about the terminology, so feel free to just mentally replace any errant terms with the ones I should have used. (That goes for you too, anyone who was bothered by "Western World" in the OP. "World around me", then?)

If you ever wish to be understood, you can't be this flippant about your choice of words. You realize, don't you, that "I'm out of step with the Western World" and "I'm out of step with the world around me" are wildly different claims, don't you? That's why they have wildly different answers. If you're out of step with the world around you, the answer is to find new friends, new locales, and new discourses. If you're out of step with the "Western World," you can try out the Eastern world or rethink what it means to be part of (hence, in or out of step with) the Western world.

The most compelling part of your explanation so far has been the story about you in the car as a kid admiring the power lines. You should write that out as a story. Others might enjoy it and you might gain a few insights in the course of composing it. You mentioned creating music earlier, but also mentioned ditching it because "I realized that patterny dance music wasn't considered terribly respectable." There's a recurring theme in your posts of a desire for acceptance, which I think is partly a function of your perceiving yourself as being more out-of-step with others than you really are, and partly a function of over-valuing being in step with what other people think.
posted by wheat at 4:24 AM on January 27, 2010



See above, but as for embracing that discomfort, I'm not quite sure whether I want to do that... it is, after all, pretty uncomfortable. Still, I guess what you're saying is that it is less so, and also kind of useful, if I recognize that that feeling of difficulty is something I share with everyone else and use it as a common ground thing in itself?


That's close to what I meant. It sounds to me as though you have a need here - a deep need, to feel aligned with and in tune with your fellow homo sapiens. Instead of attempting to fiddle with your life situation until you find a way to live that keeps that sense of disconnection that's been haunting you from creeping in, my personal guess is that it would be best to first try and fully understand the problem, scientifically, so that you REALLY know what that need is that you have. That's why I suggested hanging out with the discomfort.

Now, I get speculative... In my experience, a desire for connection with others is a very natural thing. It doesn't make you weird or "not a nature lover" or "alarmingly interested in technology" or anything else - it's just what people want. All people, in my experience. In fact it's a common tie. And furthermore, connectedness is kind of the essence of nature, the way I see it, not necessarily butterflies and trees and so on. That's a meta-level statement, but I don't mean to be irritatingly philosophical here; what really makes nature go is interdependence, the web of life, and the connections between our differences and similarities. Nature just wouldn't work if bacteria didn't "enjoy" eating dead stuff, plants didn't capture the sun's energy, and animal life didn't cause a continuous overturn and redistribution of those plants and bacteria. Everybody does their own little thing, and together we make up this remarkable interconnected system. You've never been apart from that - of course not, or you'd be dead. But it seems that somehow you feel apart from it. Why? I think that's the question to ask...
posted by Cygnet at 5:21 AM on January 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


(Oh, and I don't mean to imply that if you work this issue out you'll suddently be a nature lover or something - I'm just widening the definition of "nature" substantially here. Love of power lines is just fine too :))
posted by Cygnet at 5:28 AM on January 27, 2010


I think you could come to really enjoy these things, if you approach them from the proper perspective.

What if he doesn't want to enjoy these things?

I feel like I'm being lectured.

Well, yes, that's what this is really all about. And you feel that way because you are being lectured. Many people, especially on the internet, have a need to evangelize their point of view. It can get quite annoying (unless, of course, you share their point of view.) Some people are so sure that they're right about things, they treat those who don't see things the same way as idiots, trolls, naifs, potential converts, wing nuts, threats, moral defectives, or mentally ill. Many will apologize if you point it out to them, while others will make it worse. This isn't a logical way to respond. You could say it's (human) nature, and I don't like it any better than you do (though I'm sure I've indulged in it.)

Those of us who have an unpopular worldview find ourselves in this position quite often, and if we're not careful, when we least expect it. My solution is to be aware when this is happening and recognize that the other person is being defensive. I then no longer engage them the same way, but think of them as akin to someone who just handed me a tract and told me I was going to go to hell if I didn't repent. I don't need to argue with them as to whether I was eternally damned or not. They may have other interesting things to say, or they may not. They may mean well, or not. We all have vulnerabilities that make us defensive and some are shared by large swatches of the culture. I am not of the belief that they will be engineered out of us someday.
posted by Obscure Reference at 6:40 AM on January 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


I was saying we don't have to be if we don't want to. That's what spaceships are for.

What are we going to do there that we can't do here?
posted by symbollocks at 8:55 AM on January 27, 2010


What if he doesn't want to enjoy these things?

Like I said in that same post, "I'm not saying you have to enjoy things like nature or art, or that you're any worse off if you don't... a lot of people simply aren't into them, and that's OK. But you do seem to be suffering from a perceived mismatch between you and the rest of the world, and that's not OK."

The problem isn't "I don't like nature". "I don't like nature" is fine. The problem is "I don't like nature and not liking nature the way everyone else does is torturing me arrrrrrgh", and mental torture is not fine. Frankly, it is much easier to change yourself than it is to change everyone else in the entire world... which is probably why the OP asked for suggestions on how to change his own perspective.
posted by vorfeed at 11:29 AM on January 27, 2010


You've never been apart from that - of course not, or you'd be dead.

Sorry, being dead doesn't get you a Get Out Of The Web Of Life Free card either. I'm tipping that fungi vs cryonics companies is eventually going to be a win for the fungi :-)
posted by flabdablet at 3:01 PM on January 27, 2010


I think that in popular culture there has been a bit of a backlash against the Atomic/Space Age's "Science! It's Great!" heyday. Now we have the Information Age, which is still forward looking, but there are still strong "back to nature" themes within pop culture.

We now see some of the downsides of a headlong rush into technology and the boosterism of the past - the environmental movement in particular has been instrumental in using science to demonstrate just how wrong science/industry has been in the past (leaded gas, anyone?).

I mean, just look at something like this, and tell me the backlash doesn't practically write itself.

This new knowledge often manifests itself as skepticism about discoveries and inventions and (combined with a weariness of the ever-increasing speed of the productivity treadmill) produces a yearning for a simpler, slower time. Cf the Slow Food movement and Real Simple magazine as well as the explosion of knitting.

I mean, your engineer friends are not burnt-out wannabe pastoralists because they're tired of being Edison or Tesla. They're tired of being Dilbert and working on TPS reports. Corporate engineering can be 1% science/ingenuity and 99% paperwork at times.

But it's not like this is the first time this has gone down. Really, this is like the Enlightenment thinkers meet the Romantics all over again - a rumble two centuries in the making.

We all ride the pendulum of public opinion - would it help to think of it as a historical cycle and maybe get into green tech?

Look, all those Romantics died young of TB anyway, so don't worry too much about them. ;)
posted by clerestory at 6:37 PM on January 27, 2010


I hope this thread is winding down, not because the conversation isn't still interesting (it is, somewhat, and I'm still reading everything), but just because I'm kind of wanting to take a break from the subject, after talking about it for the last few days. Some quick things I felt I should respond to:

You have been in the majority since the 1700s.

I guess I wouldn't necessarily know this for sure, but I don't think that's true. I think I would have been in the majority in the 1700s, but that was the enlightenment, and this is the postmodern era. What was the last major movie that portrayed technology positively other than Star Wars and Star Trek? Hmm... Wall-E maybe, but it kind of took a mild shot at it too. (Talk about a film that tried to please everyone.)

For a sense of community, have you tried taking any engineering classes?

Enough to get my Bachelor's. I write code for a living.

What are we going to do there that we can't do here?

What are we going to do here that we can't do there? I'm not prepared to start this often-repeated argument right here in this thread. In fact, I'm tired of having to respond to questions like that. Which is part of what the thread is about.

The problem is "I don't like nature and not liking nature the way everyone else does is torturing me arrrrrrgh"...

Sort of, though more "the way everyone else is telling me to". Not feeling the same as others isn't the problem so much as not feeling the way others seem to say or imply that healthy Good People should feel.

flabdablet:

You've been getting at something for a while, and I'm afraid I'm starting to see what. You talk about me needing to "fact-check" something, and you kind of imply that I don't have experience telling the difference between facts and opinions (something that I think is a little silly, given that thinking rationally about my options with as little bias as possible is my job, and given the fact that I separated those two things clearly in the OP). Then you say this thing about me needing to show wisdom by doing what's right even if it conflicts with my feelings, and that people can't be reacting to feelings but only to my "behavior", i.e. talking about those feelings.

Connecting the dots, I can only assume you're trying to imply a denial of the "rational claim" aspect of my position (the notion that technology is beneficial), and that I should "do what's right" meaning to support the agrarianist position, and that any discomfort I feel in doing so is not something I should expect to be able to get over, but rather that I should just kind of shut up and live with it and not mention anything about that discomfort. Am I understanding that right?

If so, this is a discussion that should be had more privately.
posted by Xezlec at 7:24 PM on January 27, 2010


If so, this is a discussion that should be had more privately.

Huh. After looking at your other MeFi activity, I'm thinking it's unlikely you were saying that. Sorry if my "implication meter" isn't working right today.
posted by Xezlec at 8:06 PM on January 27, 2010


Oh. In fact, maybe you didn't mean anything more than what you said. You were just pointing out that it makes sense to hold off on some transhumanist or scientific goals in those specific cases where they would cause problems, i.e. global warming. If that's all you were saying, then I think I've already agreed with you. Sorry if I jumped to conclusions.
posted by Xezlec at 8:12 PM on January 27, 2010


you kind of imply that I don't have experience telling the difference between facts and opinions (something that I think is a little silly, given that thinking rationally about my options with as little bias as possible is my job

Only kind of. It may well not be the case for you in particular, but there are a hell of a lot of smart people whose logic skills are absolutely exemplary but who spend much of their lives building tremendous personal sculptures of logically unassailable belief on the basis of insufficiently tested, untestable or indeed flat-out incorrect premises. Much of traditional economics strikes me as conforming to this pattern, for example.

So when you wrote

It's a purely intellectual problem, and not the kind of thing that bothers most people, I guess. But for me, it's intensely upsetting, and it has gotten to the point that any exposure to popular media or ordinary people's viewpoint's at all is starting to be painful. I feel like I'm going crazy.

it immediately occurred to me that perhaps you could benefit from a process of identifying your own underlying assumptions and making sure they're sound.

In particular, the following apparent givens stick out from your question like dogs' balls:

1. Society at large has an identifiable world view.

2. I will take damage or perhaps even experience annihilation if I permit significant change to my own world view.

3. Whenever I feel distress while contemplating the dissonance between my own world view and that of society at large, the dissonance is the cause of the distress.

Perhaps my own implication meter is badly miscalibrated. If so, please accept my apologies and ignore all my suggestions. But if not, note that (1) is a categorization error (a world view is the property of a sentient being, not a collective of same); (2) is directly testable, and probably should be tested by easy stages, since its consequences are so limiting; and (3) contains a post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy and therefore doesn't qualify as an axiom, so throw it out and start again.

pointing out that it makes sense to hold off on some transhumanist or scientific goals in those specific cases where they would cause problems, i.e. global warming

Well sort of, off to the side a bit. Part of my own world view is that some scientific goals and some (OK, most) transhumanist goals are based on a badly flawed understanding of our own properties, capabilities and limitations. For example, the whole uploading-myself thing has always struck me as likely to be permanently infeasible, resting as it does on the assumption that the human mind and the human body are, in principle, physically separable. I personally consider this assumption more likely to be a product of magical and/or wishful thinking than a statement about how stuff really is.

But really, the beliefs I am suggesting you might want to reality-check are those having more to do with how people ought to treat each other than anything specifically scientific or transhumanist.

Part of sound mental health is finding yourself feeling equanimity instead of annoyance when that miserable fucker flabdablet starts in on the same lecture you've already heard 10000000000000000000 times from everybody else in the whole world. An important way to get there lies in finding the humility to accept that really bright people experience cognitive distortion too.
posted by flabdablet at 11:58 PM on January 27, 2010 [3 favorites]


Afterthought: once you get to a place where you do react with equanimity to expressions of fundamental disagreement, then and only then will it be time to start running tests on the following opposing axioms:

1. This droid is driving about in a sack of meat.

2. Le sac, c'est moi.
posted by flabdablet at 12:04 AM on January 28, 2010


It seems to me that, in order to avoid romanticizing pre-industrial agriculture, you've moved to romanticizing post-industrial technology. And this, I think, stems from a somewhat mystical view of technology itself. Technologies are tools for getting work done. Nothing more, nothing less. I think the only way you can arrive at a view where the mind can somehow be extracted form the body is the dualistic view of the relationship between the two that you clearly hold. What flabdablet is suggesting, quite rightly, is that that dualism breaks down if you're willing to look at it carefully. Your views on the utility of technology to overcome human shortcomings might be quite progressive, but your view on this particular duality is old school, and needs examining.
posted by wheat at 3:20 AM on January 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


Your coworkers yearning for an agrarian society probably aren't "anti-technology" or luddites of any kind. Technology is not intrinsically beneficial. Would you consider someone to be anti-technology for thinking that cars are more destructive to society than they are beneficial? How about atomic bombs? How about mind control?

From a fav blogger's FAQ:

So you're against technology -- you're a technophobe.

I love technology! A fungophobe is someone who fears all mushrooms, who assumes they're all deadly poisonous and isn't interested in learning about them. A fungophile is someone who is intensely interested in mushrooms, who reads about them, samples them, and learns which ones are poisonous, which ones taste good, which ones are medicinal and for what, which ones are allied to which trees or plants or animals. This is precisely my attitude toward technology. I am a technophile!

Now, what would you call someone who runs through the woods indiscriminately eating every mushroom, because they believe "mushrooms are neutral," so there are no bad ones and it's OK to use any of them as long as it's for good uses like eating and not bad uses like conking someone over the head? You would call this person dangerously stupid. But this is almost the modern attitude toward "technology."


You've listed some of your favorite technologies -- electrical lines, computers, electronic gadgetry in general, spaceships. Also listed in that FAQ are some of his favorite technologies:

What are some technologies you like?

One of my favorites is the beaver dam, which could be built by humans too, but it's easier to just bring in some beaver "contractors" and let them go to work. It creates a nice pond, raises ground water, buffers runoff and prevents droughts and floods downstream, and after many years of collecting organic material that would otherwise wash away, it becomes a wetland or meadow that increases the diversity and abundance of life. And if you say "that's not a technology," you confirm my point that the definition of "technology" has been twisted to include only poisonous ones, dead machines that enable the concentration of power in an alienated detached perspective.

Another great technology is cob building, a mixture of sand, clay, and dry grass that absorbs and radiates heat and can last hundreds of years. Also, recent innovations in wood burning, like Ianto Evans's rocket stove, are almost perfectly clean and efficient while still being allied to a bottom-up social order. Permaculturists are rediscovering techniques mastered by rain forest people, arranging fruit and nut trees, berry bushes, and perennial or self-seeding ground covers so that they work together harmoniously and produce abundant food with little maintenance while actually increasing soil fertility.

A good mechanical technology is the bicycle, which is cheap and simple enough to be compatible with autonomy, and moves more efficiently than any land animal, though it remains to be seen whether bicycles can be manufactured by a sustainable and non-coercive society. I don't see any problem with telescopes, stone buildings, sailing ships, unpaved roads, sophisticated ceramics, or hand tools fashioned from scavenged metal.

Of course, almost all "primitive" technologies are great, not for romantic reasons but for hard practical reasons: They keep us close to the Earth where we remain aware of the needs and perspectives of other life. They do not require the importation of energy or resources from distant places where we're not intimate with the life and would tolerate its destruction. And they are allied to non-coercive human societies: If the tools on which people depend are all within reach of everyone, if anyone can build a shelter, make a fire, weave a basket, dig up tubers, kill a deer, tan a hide and make clothing, then a dominating power has no leverage to make us obey.


So maybe what you love is not simply technology, but complexity? And what you're reacting to is people being anti-complexity? Because that's something I can get behind. Complexity is beautiful. But that's the thing, a working agrarian society IS complex. Just because it doesn't use a lot of high-technology doesn't mean it is simple. Sustainable agricultural methods are extremely complex systems of technologies that involve a nuanced understanding of ecology.

Also, if you want to talk space ships and sustainability, there's this book.
posted by symbollocks at 8:11 AM on January 28, 2010


Read though most of this thread and now my head was spining at 3000 mph. I had to step back and get centered before typing.

The essential mistake I see you making is that you are seeking comfort in philosphy and there is none. Not permanently at least. It is an endless stream of questions and anwsers that spawn even more questions. You dissonance is to be expected. You are also seeking validation of your ideas of some sort in a broader community.

Lets break this down:

1) Seeking comfort
2) Seeking a community of agreement
3) Seeking some validation of your beliefs in some sort of converstation

My diagnosis: You are looking for a rational converstation about your world view. I would engage a religious community that isn't pushing some sort of dogma. Try checking out a Unitarian Unversalist congregation. They are centered arround supporting you in developing your world view regaurdless of what it is. You will find a broad range of views from athiesm, eastern traditions, Judahism, Islam, and Christianity represented there.

Also check out Emergent Villiage and see if there is a co-hort near where you live. They are groups that meet on a regular basis to engage in respectful dialog about religion\philosphy in a context of humility and mystery. Going to one of these and working through this in person may help.

One last observation. This ungroundedness you are experencing is a great space to build humility and love for yourself and those arround you.
posted by empty vessel at 8:50 AM on January 28, 2010


Xezlec, I'd be very interested in reading your interpretation of this comment from availablelight in another thread.
posted by flabdablet at 3:04 PM on January 28, 2010


Don't know how much longer I'm going to do this every night.

In particular, the following apparent givens stick out from your question like dogs' balls:

1. Society at large has an identifiable world view.


That's an artifact of me categorizing things in order to talk about them. As I explained later, what I was trying to say is that I notice certain viewpoints being preached at me from almost every direction.

2. I will take damage or perhaps even experience annihilation if I permit significant change to my own world view.

That directly contradicts the OP, which specifically said I was considering changing my worldview and wanted to know if that's what I should do and how I should do it if so.

3. Whenever I feel distress while contemplating the dissonance between my own world view and that of society at large, the dissonance is the cause of the distress.

As I've repeated a few times now, I was feeling like I was being told that I was a bad or unhealthy person and that I needed to change, more than "contemplating dissonance". Feeling that a bit now, actually. If you're just trying to say you think I'm factually wrong about the things you're discussing and that somehow "deep down" I know it, you're completely wrong about that.

For example, the whole uploading-myself thing has always struck me as likely to be permanently infeasible, resting as it does on the assumption that the human mind and the human body are, in principle, physically separable. I personally consider this assumption more likely to be a product of magical and/or wishful thinking than a statement about how stuff really is.

The only assumption it rests on is that the brain is made of normal, physical matter and is therefore as simulatable as any other object obeying the laws of physics. For this to be impossible requires some kind of supernatural component to be necessary for the proper operation of the mind. I personally consider this assumption more likely to be a product of magical and/or wishful thinking than a statement about how stuff really is.

Also, my "Droid" is my cellphone. Sorry if that wasn't clear.

I think the only way you can arrive at a view where the mind can somehow be extracted form the body is the dualistic view of the relationship between the two that you clearly hold.

Oh. Yes. Clearly. What "dualistic" thing are you talking about? If the brain is an electrochemical processing machine, it can be simulated. Where does philosophy or dualism come in?

So maybe what you love is not simply technology, but complexity? And what you're reacting to is people being anti-complexity? Because that's something I can get behind. Complexity is beautiful. But that's the thing, a working agrarian society IS complex.

I do like complexity, but not so much the fuzzy kind. That is, I like complex systems of simple rules rather than simple systems of complex rules. Math, not liberal arts. Also, I question how complex a society can be with communication and analysis limited to pre-industrial methods. Besides, it's the creation of technology, building on things to come up with new things no one has come up with before, that's the interesting part.

Also, part of what I'm calling the "rational claim" part of this, which I haven't really defended yet, is that life would be a lot harder in the world that blog describes. People used to die of disease a lot more readily than they do today, not to mention how much hard work and land it takes to feed a civilization of our size in that model, and how you're so at the mercy of the whims of nature. Droughts don't necessarily produce mass fatalities if you can move products across long distances.

My diagnosis: You are looking for a rational converstation about your world view.

No, I think it's more that I'm tired of having that conversation and looking for a way to just agree.
posted by Xezlec at 6:26 PM on January 28, 2010


The only assumption it rests on is that the brain is made of normal, physical matter and is therefore as simulatable as any other object obeying the laws of physics.

I absolutely agree with this assumption.
posted by flabdablet at 7:15 PM on January 28, 2010


Sorry, let me remove an ambiguity. The specific assumption I am in absolute agreement with is that

the brain is made of normal, physical matter and is therefore as simulatable as any other object obeying the laws of physics.

I take minor issue with the idea that any object "obeys" the laws of physics in anything resembling the sense that I obey the laws of the land, but I'm assuming that this is merely a careless choice of words on your part.
posted by flabdablet at 7:20 PM on January 28, 2010


Me: I think the only way you can arrive at a view where the mind can somehow be extracted form the body is the dualistic view of the relationship between the two that you clearly hold.

You: Oh. Yes. Clearly. What "dualistic" thing are you talking about? If the brain is an electrochemical processing machine, it can be simulated. Where does philosophy or dualism come in?

I'm starting to think that the reason you feel in conflict with other people has less to do with your philosophical outlook that your general lack of tact and inability to entertain alternate interpretations of the data. You've spent the most of this thread batting away the advice offered to you, quite generously, from a wide variety of people, rather than trying to engage in any kind of meaningful debate. That is, after you stopped being so incredibly vague about your beliefs.

Okay, so fine. It's at least intellectually possible that the entire electrochemical functioning of the brain and the nervous system could be one day mapped and understood to the point that it could be replicated. But where does that get you, really? It's still quite a pipe dream at this point. If you get a kick out of contemplating it, rock on. If you can in some small way contribute to furthering research in that area, so much the better. But if you feel embattled because of other people's opinions about the possibility or importance of such a project, that's something you'll have to address at some point. In fact, if we are to take you at your word, that's why you posted here in the first place.

Don't know how much longer I'm going to do this every night.

You're not under any obligation to justify your views here. Believe what you want to believe. If you're sick of the thread, and have had enough of it, the tactful thing to do is say "Thanks for the advice, folks. I'm going to bugger off now and ponder this stuff further."
posted by wheat at 7:45 PM on January 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


Hey there, wheat. You're not getting a little defensive there, are you? :-)
posted by flabdablet at 7:49 PM on January 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


And there you have it. It turns out that the best possible answer to "How do I handle a fundamental conflict between my worldview and that of society at large?" is "tactfully".

And I say that without even a trace of sarcasm. I wish I'd thought of it first.
posted by flabdablet at 7:55 PM on January 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


Also, part of what I'm calling the "rational claim" part of this, which I haven't really defended yet, is that life would be a lot harder in the world that blog describes.

Which is still an awful generalization. Living in a pre-industrial society might have been physically harder than it is today. But living in modern society is probably mentally harder.

This is probably due somewhat to media influence, but there certainly seems like a depression epidemic going on that's just getting worse. And look at modern fatal diseases: heart disease, cancer, stroke, HIV/AIDS. All of which are (arguably, and certainly not completely) caused by the affects of technology. The very term "lifestyle disease" should say something.

Of course, mentally harder is ok by you because you like the challenge. A lot of people aren't so sure though. And high-tech is arguably dependent on not giving people the choice to live in other ways*. It needs a whole industrial base to survive, and if most people decided to live without that then high-tech (as it exists now) might not be possible. Maybe you feel threatened by that?

But you're probably right not to go too much into it here, because it is a reallllly complex topic, and one that I've attempted to tackle myself... and still do every once and a while. It's so loaded and it's definitely tough keeping my own bias in check (it probably would be for you, too, but worth trying nonetheless). I'm starting to think there just isn't a point in answering this question (is high tech a net benefit or drain?) though. Because if you're convinced that high-tech is humanities greatest achievement and will solve all our problems, then take that to its rational conclusion and start working on those technologies. Me? Call me conservative, but I'll believe it when I see it, and stick to refining proven ("primitive"?) technologies and putting them into practice in place of failed or malfunctioning modern technologies, which is what I think the world needs right now. Not that I'm against new technologies... just skeptical until they prove themselves, and I wouldn't bet humanity's future on them until then. And I'm being completely serious. I wouldn't want you to do any less than follow your dreams, and I hope you can say the same about me (and those you disagree with).
posted by symbollocks at 8:22 PM on January 28, 2010


Also, I'll plug this specific essay (Beyond Civilized and Primitive) on the blog I linked to before, because it applies here. I just never thought I'd be linking it for a techno-utopian... I usually do it for stubborn primitivists (the other end of the spectrum, go figure).
posted by symbollocks at 8:32 PM on January 28, 2010


I'm starting to think that the reason you feel in conflict with other people has less to do with your philosophical outlook that your general lack of tact and inability to entertain alternate interpretations of the data.

I sincerely apologize if I've seemed that way. I didn't feel like anything I said was snarky until that last post. I've been told many times that I lack tact, but wasn't aware until just now that that had been showing up in this conversation. Sorry about that.

I didn't intend to be "batting away" advice until the last two days, when some things came up I decided I didn't really agree with. For the most part, I've agreed with what people said, and I've tried to respond graciously. If I failed to do so, it was probably due to poor wording on my part.

And there you have it. It turns out that the best possible answer to "How do I handle a fundamental conflict between my worldview and that of society at large?" is "tactfully".

Nice.

symbollocks: Thanks for the summation, you make some good points, and in case you were wondering, yes, I am checking out your links.

My earlier comment about not being sure if I could keep coming back here was not intended to be rude, just honest. Though I guess, in retrospect, I can see how it might sound abrupt. I do have a full weekend planned though, and I have been staying up way too late this week pondering these things, so, seriously, with no rudeness or disregard intended, I'm probably going to have to stop here. I'll probably come back some time later, but I think this is it for this week.
posted by Xezlec at 1:23 PM on January 29, 2010


I have been staying up way too late this week pondering these things

In my experience, this kind of issue is absolutely not something you'd be better off for losing sleep over.

It's quite astonishingly easy for a sleep-deprived brain to start using deep and meaningful Internet discussions as a springboard for leaping to all kinds of unwarranted conclusions, all of which feel amazingly profound and fundamentally insightful and act as strong incentives to lose even more sleep. I can personally attest that this feedback look can lead not to fundamental discovery, but mania on a downhill ski run into psychosis.

So if you're currently at a point where you're feeling an almost compulsive need to resolve this issue, my best advice to you is get as much good sleep as you possibly can and restrict your contemplation to the clear light of day. The alternative may be rather more intense than you bargained for.

All the best.
posted by flabdablet at 5:19 PM on January 29, 2010 [2 favorites]


may be of interest (self-link)
posted by leibniz at 7:32 AM on February 2, 2010


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