Bonsciousness

Disclaimer: I have a spectrum of posts, from “thoughtfully laid out to attempt to appeal to people who disagree” to “more quickly summarized to appeal to people who already at least partially agree with me.” This post is in the second category.

I want to contribute another word to my pile of cheesy invented terms: bonsciousness.

One of my pet peeves is people confusing questions about consciousness. I’ve seen “can we ever scientifically solve the hard problem of consciousness?” uttered just a few sentences away from talking about “what is the origin of qualia.” Consciousness is a fascinating problem for reasons that render those questions useless, but in order to make this more clear I want to divide the one concept into two.

“Consciousness” is the word we (should?) use for the conceptual model we have of “other things being self aware.” When we ask the question, “how do we know if an AI should be treated ethically?” we’re probably asking if the AI is conscious. The P-Zombie thought experiment has to do with whether or not other beings contain this elusive “consciousness” quality.

Consciousness can’t be known for sure, as we could be in a simulation where everyone else just behaves very convincingly, or a dream where we are absolutely convinced that we are talking to an intelligent friend, despite them just being a projection of our own minds.

When we handle the concept ‘consciousness,’ we’re usually handling something like the concept of ‘how much do we feel that other beings exhibit patterns that we uniquely identify with’ – as in, we might think an AI is conscious if it can do things like “use language creatively.”

The key concept of consciousness is that it is something that can be applied to multiple things. There can be multiple consciousnesses, whatever it means or however sure we are of it existing. Multiple awarenesses feel like it makes sense, and is calculable, or measurable, and one day we might be able to do better science to it and feel like we’ve made additional consciousnesses.

Bonsciousness, on the other hand, is fundamentally singular. It is the subjective and immediate awareness of the self. It is direct experience.

The concept of bonsciousness becomes relevant in thought experiments like Mary’s Room (if a color blind scientist studies color for a thousand years, will surgically fixing her color blindness on the 1000th year give her any new information?), in questions of identity – but it always has to do with the nature of experience.

It cannot be multiple. If you try to imagine someone else possessing bonsciousness, you are not thinking about bonscoiusness, you are thinking about consciousness. This may seem a subtle distinction, but I find it incredibly important. Teleportation poses no deep philosophical questions when it happens to other people – the importance lies in the subjective and personal experience. The question “does teleportation kill you” relies on what the continuation of experience feels like – while the question “is AI conscious” relies on whatever markers we have that we think needs to be met for consciousness to exist. These are two questions that come from two hugely different types of ideas.

I find this to be an unintuitive distinction for some people, as it’s very common for people to combine the concepts of consciousness and bonsciousness in their own mind. I also find that if one does not already find self-awareness to be deeply philosophically strange, it’s difficult to induce that sensation in them through argument alone and I don’t expect this post would accomplish that.

I do suspect, though, that at least attempting to use different terms for singular/multiple ideas of consciousness would clarify a lot of the conversations I’ve been listening to lately. I’ve been hearing people ask a question about bonsciousness and then attempt to answer as though they’re talking about consciousness, which is quite frustrating.

Bonsciousness is so elusive because it is about a category of knowledge that isn’t measurable, and trying to treat it as measurable shuts down a lot of avenues of learning.

Losing Pride

When I was very young my parents attended a church where, during worship, women would praise dance with streamers in the back. I thought the women looked like princesses and I wanted to do it too. When asked my mom if I could, she said yes – but I needed to understand why I wanted to do it. Was it because I wanted to look pretty and have people like me? Or was it to worship God in selflessness and humility? She said if I wanted to do anything out of pride and selfishness, that I should not do it. After thinking about this, I chose not to dance.

Christians have a whole set of vocabulary and cultural ideas to deal with this idea of modesty, which is entirely foreign to a nonreligious mindset. An action is ‘good’ or ‘bad’ depending on whether the pleasure you get out of it is filtered through “for God” or for “self gain.”

This underpins clothing (why would you want to dress flashy? how does that glorify the Lord?), charity (if you attach your name to gift giving, that glorifies yourself, you asshole) to spiritual success (don’t claim responsibility for walking the righteous path, you sinner, God did that). My particular denomination went so far as to say that claiming responsibility for ‘accepting Jesus into your heart’ was too much, that God did that too – that salvation had nothing to do with you, fuck you you incompetent adamspawn.

This has a lot of psychological effects, such as fusing together the feeling of ‘pride’ and ‘shame,’ or keeping you in a constant state of failure because self-motivated pleasure is so easy to feel, or destroying your ability to think any thoughts that place yourself in a position of authority.

(Incidentally, this is related to the Christian argument about morals – they say no matter what moral outrage we feel towards God’s actions in the Bible, we are unjustified, because God is the ultimate arbiter of morality. To claim that our judgement takes precedence is a prideful act, fuck you, inherently depraved scum.)

But this can also feel subjectively pretty good in a way that’s difficult to describe to someone who hasn’t experienced it. Surrendering is cathartic. I’ve seen many Christian people (myself included) sacrifice incredible amounts and live in holy pain, enduring it stoically because it is ‘God’s will.’ I used to view these people as victims, but I’ve come to realize that they have what I call ‘martyr syndrome’ – engaging in surrender because it (ironically) gives them a sense of achievement. Pride results in uncertainty of self worth, which can be very anxiety inducing. Christianity takes this stress of agency and redirects it into simple uniform submission – pain with a purpose. This is what some Christians mean when they talk about finding peace in the Lord.

It should be clear how negatively I feel about the Christian mindset in general, but there is legitimate benefit here. The effect of anxiety reduction and a sense of purpose is pretty huge, so they’re doing something right, and I recognize strong parallels in the psychedelic experience.

I think the Christian issue is not exactly their obsession with sacrificing pride, but that they do it in such a way that emphasizes taking on the responsibility of sin.

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I am increasingly finding the sensation of pride to be unpleasant – not by judging it to be terrible, but naturally. It’s just happening. I think I enjoy it less because I feel more aware of how fragile it is – that it only exists in contrast to my surroundings, and thus that I am wholly dependent on my environment, which I cannot control, in order to have this feeling.

For example: I draw a nice picture and people tell me I’m a great artist. I feel good and I want to show even more people the art because I love to feel that people are impressed with me, and like me, and want me.

Emboldened by the praise, I take my sketchbook and go to an art convention, where I am surrounded by serious artists. My doodles are nothing in comparison. I see how unskilled I am, and so does everyone else, even if they’re nice about it. Nobody values me here, and I feel embarrassed that I thought I was worthy enough to attend.

Where does ‘pride in my work’ lie, then? In myself and my work, or in the contrast of my work to my environment?

This is a pretty obvious example, but it occurs all the time in microscopic ways, every time we feel a desire for anything that furthers a pleasurable sense of our own identity – when we make a joke people laugh at, when we dance at a club, when we wear clothes we like. All of these things exist in contrast to our environment just as much as my sketchbook did, but we don’t notice it because our environment doesn’t change enough to show us the difference. If I’d never gone to the art convention, I would never have noticed that my pride for my art didn’t actually come from my art.

Really, everything we like about ourselves is formed by comparison to environment. If we dropped you into an alien planet with an entirely different value set, your sense of self-value would become completely different.

So when we feel pride, it’s not about us, not really – it’s about feeling better than our environment, which depends on what the environment is. Not on you.

Dwelling on this can create a pretty neutral feeling when ‘doing impressive things.’ It makes the thing feel not impressive at all; it’s just a thing, being done. The impressiveness is all about perspective.

I’m using all this as a very roundabout way of saying that this can be applied to shame as well. In exactly the ways we are prideful when we do better than our environment, we feel ashamed when we do worse, and more importantly, they are contingent. To invest in contrast is to invest both sides of the contrast – that’s what it means to invest in contrast! Any feeling of shame you have is what allows you to feel pride. It is the price you pay for that joy.

If you do have a desire to eliminate your sense of shame, of self-criticism, of failure, then know that you cannot do so without also eliminating your sense of pride. If you decide that enduring the presence of self-worth anxiety is worth it for the joy of the pride you feel, then congratulations – your shame is serving you by giving you purpose to your pain. This is an absolutely valid decision and I equally admire and love people who choose this as much as I love and admire those who don’t.

If you decide it’s not worth it, then trying to reduce a sense of failure by emphasizing your sense of pride is rather amusedly self defeating. It may feel like it works, sort of like we imagine driven businessmen may have done it all because they want to prove to themselves that they’re worth something – but they did not succeed by eliminating the anxiety of failure. Saying that being successful eliminates failure anxiety is sort of like saying running from a bear kills the bear. You may be going an impressive distance, but you wouldn’t be running if there weren’t a bear.

Anyway my main point is that if you have this idea in your mind that you want to ‘accept yourself’ and ‘forgive your failures’ and ‘don’t feel ashamed,’ then you have to equally lose the thing that makes you value yourself for your success.

The Christians got it half right – they somehow identified some peace in the loss of pride, but instead of going about it naturally they codified it into a law and tried to slam it into people. The tendency of religion (and culture, and people) to figure out something nice and, in trying to communicate it, turn it into a Serious Law, is really consistent and impressive. I need to write about it.

So in summary: It’s all the environment, man. Your genes, your upbringing. You had no influence in what sperm got into your mom’s egg. You are a biological process that got pooped out into an inevitable universe, a fatty tissuey boney body that’s typing some shit on a computer, thinking that ‘it’ is doing it all, that ‘it’ is making the importance, the impressiveness. What else could have happened, really?

Experiences on acid

I did acid once a week for ten months; a summary is here

I am writing from my experience on acid. I have met many people who say their experience is very different. Although I use language like ‘we feel like’ or ‘one experiences,’ please know I don’t think my analysis is universal.

Memory

On acid, thoughts work like a stitch in cloth.

If you look at a stitch from the top down, it looks like a straight, mostly unbroken lineacidthought1

The thread itself isn’t actually going in a straight line, but the visible portion looks even, organized, functional.

If you look at the thread itself, it might look like something closer to this:

stitchacid

On acid, thoughts stop feeling like a top-down view of the stitch and start to feel like the entire goddamn thread. You start out with one thought (the first segment), and then find you’ve forgotten what you were thinking about – you are now headed in a different direction (the loop underneath), and attempts to force yourself back in line is useless. And so you go, helplessly, through a thousand ideas related and unrelated to the first segment of thought, before you find yourself back in the top stitch again. By that point you’ve forgotten what you were thinking about, so the return to the “normal” thought line is a bit of a pleasant surprise. And so you go on to move through the thought – but then the forgetting happens again.

In this way, normal thought streams can occur, but interspersed between many other thought streams. I tripped a few months ago and needed to go to the bathroom. The thought I wanted to think was “I need to ask someone for help to go to the bathroom.” This thought took me (probably) twenty minutes to fully process and actually come out of my mouth. Those twenty minutes weren’t useless, though; when we relate the idea of ‘trouble asking for help’ to our daily life, we usually think of things like being very drunk, or being very sick, and the entirety of our attention is taken up in completing the task. This is not the case on acid – the entire set of the thought “I need to ask someone for help to go to the bathroom” took the same amount of attention it would normally, only it was cut up into fragments and thrown across twenty minutes.

On acid, trying to remember what you were thinking about ranges from difficult to impossible. You cannot fight the course of the thread. Eventually you learn to give up and allow your mind to take you where it wants, because it will come back round eventually. This teaches you that the sensation of “trying to remember” is useless, and you learn to stop pursuing it.

This is my rationalization for why my memory is bad after taking so much acid. I tripped for so much so long that the muscle of memory atrophied. I feel like everything I need to know is still within me, but the command to access it is severely delayed.

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Tripsitting 1

I tripsat a man alone in my apartment on what turned out to be much stronger acid than we thought. He was twice my size, heavily muscled, and, as we found out, had a rather delusional reaction to acid. He hallucinated, had poor spacial awareness, and ran around, screaming and flailing his arms, breaking my furniture, and alerting my neighbors. I spent his peaking eight hours (the acid lasted way longer than normal) trying to sit on him, calm him, and being thrown like a ragdoll whenever he got excited. At one point he took my head between his hands, stared into my eyes, and said “I could snap your neck right now.” I wish I could say I was scared, but by that point I was so exhausted I kind of wanted to die anyway.

He didn’t remember any of it afterwards but felt quite regretful.

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Wordlessness

Usually we process concepts with a near direct one-to-one correspondence to words. There is a concept, and there is a word that maps onto the concept. Normally the mapping is so tight that we sometimes end up feeling like the words are the concepts themselves. This is why rhetoric is so powerful, why words so important, and why a skilled wordsmith can spin us around and confuse ourselves as to what we really believe – they are manipulating words that are strongly bound to ideas, and thus they manipulate ideas. It’s why we care about things like gendered language, or slurs, or insults.

On acid, this correspondence is reduced. Concepts occur wordlessly; they are experienced, like a tactile sensation in the brain. This is why thoughts on acid are so difficult to communicate – no matter how clear they are to ourselves, we lack the structure to communicate them, and the structure to recall them later. The the words for the concepts are reduced to just symbols, and seem petty, or arbitrary, or artistic representations of the real, truer thing beneath. This makes communication feel much more like a game, or a dance – that you are toying with verbal sounds that aren’t bound to any one thing anymore – you can tie them to anything, and they become much more flexible.

When we normally imagine ‘inability to communicate,’ we imagine that we can speak the thoughts in our heads in some fashion, but that others don’t understand because of language barriers, or they have different contexts for our words, or they haven’t heard the long thought train that led up to it. Normally inability to communicate is something rooted in the poor understanding of the other person – but this is not the case on acid. On acid, the inability to root things in language occurs in your own mind, to yourself. This is an alien feeling to someone who is used to orderly and practical thought.

I feel like the processing I do now is much more similar to words-as-symbols rather than words-as-direct-mapping. This has its drawbacks: I believe it ties into my difficulty remembering things, as words are fucking great for memory. It damages my ability to communicate with other people and I have trouble having an active handle on my train of thought – I get distracted more often, and I can’t hold as many multiple concrete details in my head at the same time.

On the positive side, I feel like my thinking is immensely more clear. Where I would be influenced by seemingly persuasive arguments before, now it seems like they’re waging a war with weapons that don’t work on me. My sense of concept is like gears working underground, disconnected from any handles above the surface. All the ways in which those handles were pressed in order to lead my concepts astray now have severely reduced effects. My thinking has grown significantly more independent (crazy?)

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Acid Testing

I was tripping on about 400ug. My friend asked me to do some math, gradually increasing in difficulty. I could do any math that relied on one unit of memory – for example, 3×3 = 9. I didn’t manually calculate 3×3=9, it was already memorized.

I had difficulty doing math that relied on two units of memory – for example, 54+92. I knew 5+9, and I knew 4+2, but by the time I remembered one of them, I forgot the other.

I was incapable of doing any math that required three units of memory. 13×14 was impossible. I knew how I was supposed to do it, but the thought-loops prevented me from creating a singular, unbroken line of thought. By the time I’d looped all the way back to my original train of thought, I’d forgotten the concrete detail I needed to remember.

Then my friend asked me to imagine a diamond, equal in length on all sides. He said – the top corner is blue, the left is green, the bottom is yellow, the right is purple. If you rotate the diamond one quarter counterclockwise, what color is on the top?

I figured out the answer almost instantly, even before any of the sober people listening. My visual imagination was so strong that a description of an image was almost as good as me looking at the image.

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Tripsitting 2

I’ve tripsat around 50ish people, and have noticed a trend where some men, generally quite polite, unassuming, and gentle while sober, will make uncharacteristic sexual advances to me while tripping – mostly while in a sort of distant, dazed state. The advances mostly come in the form of silently caressing, holding, or groping me – pretty casually, as though we’re already sexually intimate. This puts me in an awkward position, because as their tripsitter, I feel responsible for facilitating a good experience, and rejecting someone on acid can start a bad trip. I usually respond by pretending I have something to do somewhere else, or gently pulling away, if I can.

(I know there’s a strong cultural taboo against unwanted sexual contact, but in this context I want to emphasize that I feel no judgement and I don’t mind. The contact wasn’t aggressive and I felt in control and free to leave. Plus they were on drugs.)

It’s rather amusing to me that this is a trend. I haven’t asked any of them about it yet. I don’t know what it’s all about. If any of you have experienced this I would like to know more.

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Belief

I generally don’t experience construction of belief during a trip. Tripping is almost entirely deconstructive for me; it’s a continual process of locating ideas I have about the way things work and then losing belief in them.

Some other people have this same experience, but most don’t. Experiencing constructive belief “that cat can hear my thoughts” or “I am communicating with an omnipotent being” is fairly common. I don’t understand how this happens, but it’s really hard for people who experience it to explain it. If anybody has an enlightening perspective on this phenomenon then I’d like to know about it.

Anyway – normally when we ‘believe’ things, we have some sort of sensation that the thing we believe matches up pretty accurately with some sort of external reality. This is what we feel when we say things are ‘true,’ when we talk about ‘facts,’ or ‘insanity’ This sensation can permeate so strongly and universally that we stop really registering that we feel it, sort of like a fish that doesn’t know what water is. This is why it can be so difficult to describe to someone who has never experienced anything else.

While tripping, this sensation is reduced or lost. Beliefs are still experienced, but without the feeling of matching up with ‘external reality.’ Once unbound by concerns about ‘truth’, beliefs start to feel like stories, and it becomes much easier for the mind to view beliefs purely for the benefits or comfort the stories provide. This can really highlight ways in which we lie to ourselves, because we lose the escape of ‘but it’s true’ to justify our self-deception. All we have left is “what are my incentives for believing this,” and the answers can be very brutal. “You really believe this because you are desperate for love” or “because you like feeling superior” or “because you are afraid of being alone.”

All that’s left is “this is the way I have made it.”

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An okcupid date

I don’t remember who proposed it, but I met him for the first time at my doorstep. Within ten minutes we both dropped acid and went to church. I sang all the songs joyfully, and at the post-sermon meet-and-greet I told everyone that I was god.

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600ug

That was the reported dose, but in hindsight I think the tabs were stronger.

I spread out towels on my bed out of fear I might pee myself. I closed the door, turned off the music, ate the tabs, and laid down, alone and in silence.

The comeup came hard 20 minutes in. By 90 minutes time slowed so much that I could hear each individual rotation of the blades from the fan in the corner. I was writhing with overwhelming ecstasy, in my body and my mind. I became aware that my genitals were contracting, that I was having an orgasm. It didn’t stop for several minutes.

By 120 minutes I could no longer see the room in front of me when I opened my eyes. I was no longer Aella; I had no experience of my identity, my beliefs, my expectations – I was an infinite series of conscious experiences, cruel and kind, suffering and prosperous. I was dreaming with my eyes open wide, with the knowledge that these weren’t new dreams, they were old ones, ones I’d had a thousand times before, and my presence here was a remembering, and in remembering was what existence was.

After a few hours I regained function enough to manage to hit play on a laptop I’d set up next to me. Time was so distorted that, while I recognized the music, I felt nothing from it; by the time one note had played, I’d forgotten the last one. It no longer functioned like music to me. This frightened me; I thought maybe I’d lost the ability to enjoy music, and the concern was enough to prompt me to skype call a friend and blabber nonsense to him until I finally regained my sense of self.

Fortunately I managed to get through the whole experience without peeing myself even once.

The Context Of Equality

Equality is a pretty word, but for a thing that everyone agrees upon is desirable, nobody seems to agree on what it looks like.

I want to divide equality into two concepts – context and contextless.


Contextual Equality
is equality that tries to equalize the outcome while taking into account all the associations of the situation – history, culture, demographic, etc. – or “contextual body.”

For example: Joe and Marsha go to high school. Joe has a hard life – abused by his parents, a learning disability, not a morning person. Marsha has a pretty good life – loving parents, intelligent, eats vegetables.

Joe and Marsha both fail a test and come to the teacher begging for a retake. Should they be treated equally? Maybe – but contextual equality would take into consideration the fact that Joe’s failure of the test is more understandable, and that allowing him to retake the test would be more helpful to him. Marsha has no good excuse for her failure – she has everything going for her already – a good ‘contextual body’ – and refusing her a retake might be the best option.

Contextual equality is behind ideas like power structures, privilege, and affirmative action. It does not view human interactions as happening in isolation, but rather more like two huge contextual bodies summarized in a small point of contact. Calling a black person a racial slur is worse than calling a white person a racial slur, because black people (in the US) were enslaved and white people weren’t. Contextual equality is less for equal treatment and more for equal outcome – if the treatment does not result in similar outcomes, then we must modify the treatment to get everybody in the same position by the end.

Contextless Equality is the exact opposite. It doesn’t care about the surrounding history and culture, it cares about a process that works independently from the personal stories of the people going through it.
Contextless equality would say that Joe and Marsha should both be denied or approved the text retake. Sure, maybe Joe would benefit more, but that’s not the point. The point is to give the children an escape from the weight of their contextual bodies, an environment where it doesn’t matter. It encourages solidarity and community between children by treating them the same, and to promote the feeling of fairness. So many aspects of the world are blind to your personal stories, so getting used to it now will help later on.

Contextless equality is behind ideas like blinded hiring practices – hiding the names on resumes to prevent bias in hiring for jobs. It’s behind standardized testing, behind tolerance of all religious clothing regardless of the oppression it might symbolize. It is more for equal treatment, not equal outcome. It cares about the interaction itself, and whether that interaction is consistent with all interactions. It views the contextual body as irrelevant.

I think the solidarity that comes out of contextless equality is underappreciated by the more liberally minded. Have you ever entered a system where your past didn’t matter, where the standards for you were the same as they were for everyone around you? Various forms of ritual does this – religious ceremonies and military training, for example. Cutting off your contextual body can be incredibly freeing and allow strong bonding with those around you.

I also think the empathy and recognition that comes from contextual equality is underappreciated by the more conservatively minded. Privilege and discussions of power aren’t always an attempt to shame, they’re attempts to recognize and comfort those who feel unheard. It’s how people with ‘worse’ contextual bodies voice their hurt at the difficulty of being around people with ‘better’ contextual bodies.

I personally suspect that intimate interactions are better done with contextual equality, and large systemic interactions are better done with contextless equality. The strength of contextual equality is that it is warm, personal, and it’s very difficult to maintain that effectively on a larger scale. The strength of contextless equality is that it promotes a sense of systemic unification, which can seem very cold when seen close up.
This is why I like the idea of blind hiring practices (contextless and systemic) but not affirmative action hiring practices (contextual and systemic). It’s why I like using trigger warnings with my friends (contextual and intimate) but not telling my friends they should just deal with it like everyone else (contextless and intimate).

I think usually those who look like they’re against equality are really just for a different sort of equality than we are. Most humans want good shit, in the end.

Yes, And I Like It

Sometimes I come up with reasons about my behavior based on my childhood. “I must be overly compliant and afraid of authority/rulebreaking because my parents were authoritarian,” I think. This is a rationalization that gives my behavior meaning – there was a cause (authoritarian parents), a reaction (whatever emotional responses that had – fear, desire for love, etc.), and a lasting effect (compliance). It is a story about myself, not from a cold, distant perspective, but from the inside, from my own mind – what it feels like to make decisions.

This is a narrative that has been very useful and intuitive, and led me to things like dealing with my overcompliance by reminding myself that the world is not my parents, or forgiving myself for overcompliance by identifying the concrete cause of exposure to authority. Overall, the story of “authoritarian parents caused my compliance” is one that has helped me gain control over my actions. Because it makes sense and has worked so well, I think it is true. How could something work so well and not be true?

Imagine my surprise when my Mom read to me notes she had taken about me as a toddler, prior to any age I remember. “Very compliant,” she had written. “very concerned about pleasing those around her.”

The fact that I was displaying these traits before any serious parenting happened was a huge blow to my idea that my parents caused my compliance. Gone was my image of a plucky three-year-old getting the fire snuffed out of her. (Now, of course my story of authoritarian-compliance could still be true. My parents did do things like “hit her as a baby if her cries sound defiant”, so it’s possible that my personality traits mostly emerged as a response to that training. It’s also possible my traits were mostly genetic. I have no idea.)

This instance, among many others, really divorced me from the idea that I was tapping into some sort of ‘actual truth’ when I made up explanations for why I was the way I was, particularly when the causes in question were unclear, complicated, or a long time ago.

It also sort of reminds me of a sensation I had after a long and strange dream. When I tried to communicate the dream, I found that much of it was too ethereal to capture in words – so I described it as best I could, an abridged version, forcing tiny bits of narrative to cover up the gaps I couldn’t explain adequately. As I recounted the dream, I could feel the memory fading and being wholly replaced by the story I was telling – deeply, in the way I believed it. It was an odd sensation, to sense something untruthful become truth to me, but I realized that was the only way my brain could hold on. This tale was now the only access I had. I would have felt uncomfortable, except I realized I had probably done this countless times in the past without knowing it.

In fact, I probably was doing this constantly – not just with dreams or childhood tales, but with every story I told myself about why I did the things I did. In the translation of my life to words in my memory I was inevitably engaging in a lie, because words cannot possibly accurately convey experience. I was a fabric woven out of tales spun from experience.

Everything I thought about myself and my own identity was subject to this. I had the feeling that my ideas about myself were “true” because they proved to be both useful and elegant – but then my idea about authoritarian-caused-compliance was both useful and elegant, and it probably-possibly wasn’t “true” at all! I could not know, and if something is impossible to know then it is just as good as not existing at all.

Ultimately, “who I was” felt like a story I had created in my own mind to make sense of my surroundings. A useful story, an elegant one, but still a story.

This concept of self-as-a-story, as specifically different from self-as-definitely-real, places identity in the realm of self-creation as opposed to world-creation. Doing this grants us agency and is a core for a lot of theories of healing and emotional growth.

Once you buy into the idea of self-as-a-story, once you integrate it as a deep belief, it becomes easier to accept new stories you employ to give direction to your life and identity. A lot of people have a strong negative reaction to this idea with the sense that they are lying to themselves – but the sense of “lying to yourself” arises only when you are consciously saying one thing and your subconscious is saying another. If you truly believe deeply, your subconscious will be aligned, and it will feel like truth. If you feel the sense of lying-to-yourself when trying to accept new stories, then that means you haven’t believed deeply enough yet. Beliefs are malleable, and we can learn to use them like clothes, switching them out as is appropriate for the occasion.

Here I want to talk specifically about engaging a story, much like the ones we employ every day, that is not grounded in reality, but is rather both useful and elegant. (It’s almost certain I’m not the first one to try to verbalize this, and I have a horrifying lack of education in basically everything, so I am under constant fear that my thoughts are already common knowledge, so if this is common knowledge pls ignore.)

The story is called: “Yes, And I Like It.”

It meant to address self-disgust or variations on it. The first step is to identify the thing you’re doing that you dislike, such as:

Getting jealous when your partner meets up with an old fling
Talking about yourself too much in social situations
Procrastinating housework

The second step is to identify, as primally and as honestly as possible, the source or reason for the unpleasantness. For some things this can be very difficult to do and take a long time. Phrasing them as self-referencing is usually the best:

I am afraid I’m not good enough for my partner.
I crave approval of my peers.
I lack willpower for simple tasks.

The third step is to respond “yes, and I like it.”

I am afraid I’m not good enough for my partner.
Yes, and I like the fear.
I crave approval of my peers.
Yes, and I like the insecurity.
I lack willpower for simple tasks.
Yes, and I like the helplessness.

The idea here is that to change yourself you must first accept yourself, and to accept yourself you must first accept your flaws, and to accept your flaws you must view them as intentional. Not in name, not in word, but deeply, truly. You must believe the story of Yes, And I Like It.

(Another objection might be that this leads to passivity and helplessness, but I disagree.)

The concept of liking negative emotions might seem pretty silly, but the idea that we must not like things that hurt is in itself a belief we can step out of, with a little practice.

In fact, we practice it anyway without realizing it. We immerse ourselves in movies with threats and tragedies that feel real, if only for a few hours. Some of us get a little excited when bad world events happen – not because they wanted it to happen, but because badness is exciting the same way it is in movies. And I’m sure most of us as teenagers discovered we had recently developed capacity for complex emotional pain and promptly spent a lot of time feeling all the pain we could at once. Experiences of intense emotional pain while on psychedelics can lead to this sensation as well, usually much more vividly.

We already hold within our minds stories of I like this thing that hurts, even if we don’t realize it. Pain can be exciting, cathartic, or meaningful.

And so learning to believe the story of Yes, And I Like It can take that little dark pleasure and channel it into your life now. It can apply even to things outside of your own control (My mother died; I miss her terribly, and I like it).

Ultimately the goal is to divorce yourself from the narrative that pain is bad. That is an elegant and useful story, but elegant and useful does not mean true.

Facts vs. Truth

Years ago, a very liberal media source interviewed my very fundamentalist Christian father about his very fundamentalist Christian views on homosexuality. The outcome was a well-edited mash of audio-visual tricks that made my father look like a buffoon, saying and responding in uncharacteristic ways that highlighted the stupidity of what he was saying.

I did not feel sympathy. Even if the interviewers were not directly and literally honest, they communicated the “truth” behind his words – that of judgement, of intolerance, of irrationality – which I knew, from living with him, that he actually did feel – calling gay people ‘fags’ and ranting about the ‘gay agenda’ in private. In a way, I thought the interviewers sacrificed literal facts in order to reveal a greater truth. After all – my dad presented ‘literally’ would have showed him selecting his words carefully, making use of persuasive rhetoric, making his position look reasonable – and I believed that his position was obviously not reasonable. So really the interviewers, through their artistic use of interpretation, were actually doing good work with their alternative use of facts.

Several months ago I was stalked and chased down some deserted alleys in Istanbul. When the man charged at me, I screamed, and he stopped and fled, without touching me. When I told the story to my neighbors (who were going to help me translate to the authorities) they insisted that I lie and say the man had grabbed me – because if he hadn’t touched me, no crime had been committed and he couldn’t be prosecuted. And since we knew he was bad, and that he should be prosecuted, we should be dishonest about the literal facts in order to truthfully illuminate his badness.

My point is that we have an idea that sometimes facts aren’t the same as truth. That even if you say things correctly, you might give a false idea, and that sometimes saying things incorrectly is necessary in order to creatively reveal the true nature of reality. We sometimes forgive dishonest portrayals as necessary, particularly if we feel strongly or morally about the outcome.

It’s why we tolerate/love mockery and satire, or impassioned and exaggerated speech. It’s why we’re okay setting aside the ‘rational fact checking’ parts of our brain when ‘badness’ is happening – because deep down, we feel the facts no longer matter. Facts, even if true, can be misleading, can slow us down, can catch us in petty arguments over statistics or history, can distract us from things like protecting gay people or prosecuting would-be rapists. They can be used as weapons against us – if you’ve ever had a debate with an obviously-wrong person who is more technically informed than you, you know this frustration. Facts do not equal truth, at least not deep down in our gut.

And I don’t mean to say that this is bad or good. Was it a bad or good thing that I agreed to lie to the police about my stalker in Istanbul? I don’t care about whether or not this was moral – this is not the question I am trying to answer. Shutting down “caring about facts” has its benefits and drawbacks. All I am trying to say is that we do this. All the time. And to pretend that facts are facts are facts and that we only care about facts is an outright lie. Facts are useful when we can wield them for good, and misleading or distracting when others wield them for bad. We frequently care more about the feeling of truthiness, not the feeling of factuality, because truthiness always feels morally right, and sometimes facts feel morally wrong.

And so when I see outrage and disbelief about how people can support Trump after he repeatedly lies, contradicts himself, or displays a general disinterest in factuality, I feel like those outraged fail to understand this key concept. People supporting Trump are sacrificing facts in order to illuminate their ‘deeper truth’ in the same way I was sacrificing facts when I supported the pro-gay interviewers, when I lied that my stalker had touched me. They genuinely feel that the liberal agenda is ruining the country, and that sacrificing literal accuracy is a minor detour on the path to saving themselves and America. They are doing exactly the same thing that we do, except against us.

It is not a war of fact against fact, but rather truthiness against truthiness, with facts being used as weapons against each side.

If we want to step away from this, we have to be consistent. If I want to condemn Trump supporters for being tolerant of his lies, then I have to stop sympathizing with the pro-gay interviewers and I have to defend my father’s presentation of his views as he gave them. I have to tell the police the truth, even if it means a would-be rapist goes free. If Trump supporters do not get to pick and choose their own truth, then I don’t get to pick mine either.

Choosing Insecurity

I think monogamous people are monogamous because they are insecure.

This is an upsetting thing to hear and I don’t think I’ve ever heard a monogamous person agree with me – but before you start typing out an angry comment, I promise I can salvage myself. Probably.

I have a fear of authority and rulebreaking. The fear is so strong that it sometimes interferes with my life – I have anxiety about being in the wrong cabin in a train, trying to jump turnstiles makes my body physically seize up, and I meekly accept unfair Comcast bills.

I know myself pretty well, so I know the amount of effort it would take to fix this particular fear would be pretty huge. It might take therapy, both the sit-down-in-a-chair and the exposure kind. It would take extraordinary mental effort and discomfort on my part. Would my life be better if I fixed this fear? Yeah, probably – but a better question is, would it be worth it?

My rulebreaking-anxiety doesn’t give me trouble that often. I’m pretty happy being a rule-follower, most of the time. So – should I fix it?

I think there’s a common idea that personal growth is always the correct option, and in a way this makes a bit of sense. If there’s a problem inside of you that limits your ability to enjoy life, then fixing that problem would be better, right? We frequently heighten this idea to a nearly moral imperative – if you’re dating a shitty person who you think you deserve, then you need to break up with them and upgrade your self worth. If you are doing drugs to feel better, you need to quit and get fulfillment out of exercise and good eating or whatever it is normal people do these days.

This imperative applies even if the problem isn’t actually much of a problem. If someone isn’t a drug addict, but rather gets horribly drunk a few times a year whenever they encounter a severe emotional problem, we see that they’re not dealing with things in a healthy way. And even if their alcohol-for-emotions habit is rare enough that it isn’t causing serious damage, we know that this might not last. Emotions can always get worse, and there’s a good chance that in the future, the mild habit now might lead to serious problems down the road.

In this situation, the fact that our occasional drunkard is okay right now seems just a matter of chance – that his life isn’t okay because of his internal strength, but rather because his life isn’t bad enough to turn him into a drunkard… yet.

We could say the same thing about my rulebreaking anxiety. The fact that my life is okay right now might be just a matter of chance – that it’s not because of any strength, but rather because I have the leisure of keeping away from authority figures most of the time.

But of course we can take this idea to extreme conclusions – everything good in our lives right now is just a matter of chance. The fact we are happy and functional might not be because we have the internal strength to tolerate being insulted, but rather because nobody is insulting us. We have a thousand weaknesses hidden by everyday convenience.
And so if we really wanted to become someone who would be okay with everything, we ought to go endure torture and loss in order to reveal and deal with those thousand weaknesses.

But we don’t, because it’s not worth it. Every day we make judgments about what is or is not worth it, and every day we forego personal growth because doing so would be too hard. When I make the choice not to “go to therapy so that I can hop on trains”, I’m deciding that the pain of expanding myself is not worth the benefit I would get from occasional rule breaking.

Most common is lack of empathy when we overlook the great cost of self improvement in others. Years ago, I thought my friend should break up with her boyfriend and improve herself so she could get a better boyfriend – but in recommending this to her, I wasn’t taking into account the pain of loneliness she would endure by being single. When I recommended my friend to quit drinking in response to pain, I didn’t understand that he was making a value judgement in much the same way I was when I meekly paid Comcast an extra 33$ instead of protesting the unfair charge. In drinking, he was making the judgement that working to fix himself without alcohol cost too much pain for the benefit of decreased alcoholism risk.

And obviously risk assessments go wrong all the time. Sometimes people do become alcoholics, or get into abusive relationships, – but that’s what is meant by risk. If they understand the risk they’re taking, then we must conclude that the benefit they gain is worth it, for them – much as people who drive cars understand very well that they might get into an accident, but decide that the benefit they get of transportation is worth it.

And so how can we blame anybody for avoiding “fixing themselves,” even if it goes wrong? The most we can do is make sure they understand the risk they’re taking, and if they do understand, then they are making an educated decision about their own values, and “you should quit drinking” is a recommendation that comes from a position of ignorance.

And so when I say people who are monogamous are monogamous because they are insecure, I in no way mean this as a judgement. They have made the decision that going to the effort of getting rid of jealousy – of dealing with the pain of their partner spending the night somewhere else – is not worth the benefits they might gain from nonmonogamy. This is an absolutely valid decision.

(edit: i should clarify that my definition of monogamy is “when you place a restriction or expectation on your partner’s engagement in sexual activity.” In a situation where two people are totally okay with their partner fucking/loving other people, but just happen not to due to lack of desire or interest in other people, I consider this just passive polyamory.)

But I think it is also useful to be honest with ourselves when we are making these value judgments. Monogamy is due to insecurity, at its heart – that your partner will leave you, and cloaking it under the guise of romantic notions of commitment is disingenuous. My anxiety about rulebreaking is about fear, not about anything noble, or about respecting people in authority, or supporting society. It’s just me being scared. People in mediocre relationships just don’t want to be alone, people who drink during hard times aren’t doing it for fun.

We all are succumbing to weakness, and that’s okay. We should look our flaws in the face, and if we have full understanding of the value decisions we’re making, then there is no reason to be ashamed.