Posts tagged ‘psychology’

1 May, 2011

Partisan

One of the questions I do battle with frequently is “Why read? Why study literature?

My answers vary depending on the day from a deplorable ‘I don’t know, best keep going so I can find out‘ to the self-indulgent ‘Life is short, best do what you enjoy‘ to the slightly less navel-gazing notion that ‘It’s a useful lens to view the world through‘ to what is currently my best answer– ‘It reminds me that there is a world outside partisan beliefs. There is something universal, and you are a part of it.

It is disconcertingly easy to get ensnared by the us-versus-them mentality that’s everywhere. Sometimes as Americans we think we’re the special snowflakes who have more opinions and chosen-sides than others, but in reality I’m pretty sure partisanism is pandemic.

I’m not above being partisan, mind you, far from it. I am, however, conscious of three things: (1) that I am partisan, for deliberate, researched reasons; (2) the “other side” is rarely composed of morons– they, too, are thinking, researching people, who frequently are separated from me by their priorities and beliefs; (3) these “sides” are often artificial– they are gross simplifications, and very rarely does the world fit neatly into two or even three “sides” of thought or action.

The second realization is especially important. It is easy to pick sides, and even easier to denigrate the worth of the other side. It is essential that we resist the temptation to do so. So much of our world could be improved by respect for differing perspectives. So much could be improved just by moderating ourselves.

You don’t have to agree. You just have to strive to be respectful– something I fear is becoming a more and more distant, abstract concept in digital culture.

Though the second is arguably the most important point, I think the third is the one that gets the most frequently ignored– it’s too easy to fall into the mythos of us versus them, too easy to buy into the oversimplification. I believe that most people, myself included, have to actively fight partisan thinking in order to see around it at all.

“I mourn the loss of thousands of precious lives, but I will not rejoice in the death of one, not even an enemy. Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that. ”

–Martin Luther King, Jr.

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19 March, 2011

This is Water

I think sometimes it is just as important to hear an author speak as it is to read their words in print. This is why I love David Sedaris’s involvement with NPR, and why I love when authors (again, like Sedaris, and also Neil Gaiman) read their own works. It’s fantastic.

Here’s David Foster Wallace, giving a commencement speech that is about consciousness, essentially. One of my professors brought it to my attention via Facebook.

It’s long. It is also worth your while. Take some time and just listen. You probably owe yourself a break, anyway.

Also, for your pleasure:

David Sedaris on Easter, in Grammatically Unstable French.

4 March, 2011

The American Skeuomorph

A skeuomorph is, basically, an ornament that imitates an earlier, functional incarnation of itself. It is something like the studs on your jeans–which once had a function but are now little more than a decorative accent– or the pocket watch pocket in pants and jackets. Like tiny ghosts, they slip under the radar, never questioned, never removed.

I’ve been thinking for several days about skeuomorphs now, since I stumbled upon them at the beginning of this week. Why do we hang on to these bits of antiquity? Why does the design feel so empty without them? Is it just tradition, or is it a subconscious demand to have something that places us as a link to the past? To something recognizable?

When you’re writing science fiction or fantasy it is always recommended not to stray too far from the familiar– readers need something to fit their fingers around. They need a schematic. Much like a skeuomorph, this schematic is only there as a link to something earlier. Something recognizable. Without it, you can alienate readers– effectively put them into something like culture shock.

Another thought: consider the jargon that gets used in American media all the time that places the United States as a firmly Christian country (despite declining church attendance and affiliation) and rhetoric that suggests we are the greatest world power, and always will be (despite the rise of other countries, such as China). As time moves forward, “old-fashioned American values” and “the American dream” have had less of a tangible role in coming-of-age in America, yet the language lives on. I expect it will continue to live on, as well. Like the pocket watch pocket, its function is minimal (and occasionally re-imagined), and yet, it endures. It is part of the standard design, and without it we would feel somehow incomplete.

“American Love; like coke in green glass bottles…they don’t make it anymore.”

-Alan Moore The Watchmen

 

This has nothing to do with my thoughts on Skeuomorphs, but I have been here, and so has someone else, apparently:

This has happened to me.

3 February, 2011

The Belly of the Whale

Six years ago (woah, that feels weird) I was writing a senior thesis for AP English Literature about Campbell and the Hero.

Every hero follows the same journey, according to Campbell. There are several pit-stops in the journey. Today, as I was doing someone else’s laundry and watching a rom-com, I started thinking about the Belly of the Whale– it’s the lowest point in the cyclical hero’s journey.

The Belly is the darkest place– its where all hope seems lost. It’s name, of course, comes from the Biblical Jonah, who was swallowed not by a whale but by a giant fish (being a pseudo-classicist means I get to occasionally be fussy and split hairs like that.) What makes this agonizing literary midnight interesting, however, is the fact that the hero can’t climb out alone. He needs assistance to get out of the disastrous mess he’s in. Theseus is dead until Ariadne gives him the string to help him navigate the labyrinth; Jason is dead until Medea gives him the tools and the magic he needs to get the fleece; Psyche is dead until everything from Cupid down to the lowest ant gives that dumb butterfly the assistance she needs.

I often wonder if there’s any parallel in real life. If mythology is a functional understanding of the world, surely its mimetic qualities are myriad. Sure, strip away the minotaurs and the Argo, but underneath, a lot of things hold true– team work, jealousy, interdependence, complicated family dynamics, angry mothers, chutzpah, fearlessness, and most importantly, the ability to take that hand up when you need it.

Maybe that’s what mythology’s most important lesson is– you can’t do this shit alone, and that’s okay. To any of you hanging out down here in the dark with me, it’s okay to accept help– if thousands of stories and, if the shared wisdom of the human race is any indication, you’ll need it in order to move onto what comes next.

16 January, 2011

Colliding Universes

Why is it that we, especially when we are young, do not want our friends to meet? Is it a selfishness, or is it some thinly-masked fear that they will discover we are more than one person?

We are not the same to all people, nor should we be. All people are not the same to us.

Do you wish to be great? Then begin by being. Do you desire to construct a vast and lofty fabric? Think first about the foundations of humility. The higher your structure is to be, the deeper must be its foundation.

-Saint Augustine