Daily GUIDE-ance:

Friday, November 15, 2013

Heroes, Villains and Sheep

I recently watched a talk by Phillip Zimbardo, author of 'The Lucifer Effect'. I'll attach the talk later if I can find it. (It had alot of graphic visuals... as in the Abu Ghraib pictures of prisoner sexual abuse... I myself didn't care to stomach those visuals and skipped em, so fair warning. They come in a solid easily skippable chunk with plenty of warning ahead of time.) But the essence of the talk, as I took it was this:

There are three types of reactions a person can have to a stressful situation.
(As a student of LDS theology, I found the threefold moral division to be significant and interesting.)
Reaction 1: The Villain response. These are the murderers, rapists, thugs, cheaters... your all around scumbags.
Reaction 2: The response of permissive inaction. These are the folk who close their eyes, and do nothing, who passively allow evil to exist unresisted and unprotested. They do not commit crimes themselves, but do nothing to protect victims.
Reaction 3: The Hero response. Should need no explanation. Ordinary people who do extraordinary things.

Zimbardo, in his talk, tells a true story about a man who in a crowded subway station collapsed, fainted onto the tracks, with a train only seconds away. 70+ people on the platform, all of whom froze, watching this man about to die. All but one. A father, his 2 children with him, shouts to a stranger in the crowd to watch his kids, and throws himself onto the tracks. With only seconds to spare, he drags the unconscious man, a man he does not know, into the center of the tracks and covers him with his own body. The train passes above them, clearing the pair of them by just half an inch.

He took Responsibility.

Last post I wrote about freewill, and the strong tendency I have observed, of people to want to surrender, to get rid of, their own animacy. Loki (in the Avenger's movie) was partly right. People do crave subjugation. It is a natural human state. But! We can rise above Nature. That is what becoming a human being is all about.

The reason people want to surrender their freewill, the reason people crave subjugation is because we are terrified at the idea that we may be Responsible for own lives and actions.

Zimbardo also discusses a study in which 9 out of ten people could be induced to push a button that they believe delivers near lethal voltage to another human being- even while they watch and listen to the victim of their actions scream, writhe and beg for mercy- if only an authority figure assures them that this is all just part of the experiment and- Key- the authority figure is taking full Responsibility for their actions.

The good news? One in ten ordinary people had the courage to refuse participate anyway.
One in ten people are people. One in ten Pinocchios are real boys.

May I quote Dune?
"You dare to suggest that the son of a duke is an animal?
Let us say I suggest that he may be human."

Have I seen this in real life? Does this surprise me? Man. How I wish it did.
Nope. Doesn't surprise me at all. I have seen it far far too often.I have seen far too many people choose the passive permissive response. The response that ignores the bruises on a neighbor's child, that turns up the TV to drown out the beating next door. That doesn't want to be involved. Doesn't want to meddle.

The Villains are not the problem in our world. Its the Enablers.

I have also seen a few Heroes.
Heroism, Zimbardo says, is misportrayed. Heroes, he says, are ordinary people, who Choose to Act. Ordinary people, I would add, who chose to feel, who chose to chose.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Free Will

When I was young and impressionable, I read a quote from the scifi writer Phillip Jose Farmer (who lived in Peoria IL, poor devil) that impressioned me.

At the time I was interested (mind you I am like 14-15 at the time) in the idea that everything could be predicted. I didn't have any kind of background in physics at that age, but it made intutive sense that if you had enough information about the start of the universe and were smart enough, you could work out everything that was going to happen. Collisions, rebounds, recombinations of matter etc- the universe as one big billiard table. I think I got the initial inspiration for this line of thought from The Hitchhiker's guide to the galaxy- Deep Thought- the supercomputer that designed the Earth- had a line about how it was so smart that when it was first activated it started with 'I think therefore I am' got as far as deducing the existance of rice pudding and income tax before anyone could hit the off button. Fascinating idea, espcially at 14. Could that really be done? I wondered.

Well it offended my sensiblities, because I did not like the idea that I could be fully predicted like that. So it was a fascinating AND annoying idea- and that combination of traits is pretty much all me, so I thought it out for quite a while and pretty thoroly.

I was pretty sure that I was not just a meat robot. This conviction was partly backed up at church but also annoying undermined there, as some churchfolk said that God actually could and in fact had charted my every move beforehand. That had annoyed me as far back as I can remember.

I have a memory of me at about age 9 randomly hurling my bike down the porch steps once, just because it seemed like something that God would never have been able to forsee and I wanted to prove a point. Afterwards, as I was picking my bike back up, I think I realized that He might have anticipated the train of thought that lead me to shoving my bike down the stairs, and so I set my mind to thinking of something even more random to do.

I certainly didn't, and still don't, feel much like what I imagine a meat robot would feel like.

Anyhow. The Phillip Jose Farmer quote. It was something like this:

“I believe people have freewill, but don’t use it very much.”

That makes one schmee of a lot of sense.

Lately I have found it fascinating and… lets go with annoying again, although the truth is, annoying isn’t nearly a loud enough of a word… fascinating and annoying, the lengths to which people will go to avoid having to using their freewill. Some folk- the type A, eternally constipated ones esp- love to make lists and live their life by what they Must Do. Every hour and minute accounted for, planned and- this is the key bit- excused and no longer their responsibility! Their minute to minute choices neatly excised from their life. They would like life to be a fully automated ride in the passenger seat, the only choice ever made is the initial one to get on the bus. They want an instruction manual for every instance and eventuality. These people disgust me frankly. I used to be one of them, I am afraid. Thank God, He threw me curve ball after curveball though, until I finally realized the point. .

Life is not about being in a groove or a rut. Death- that’s all about being in a rut. The inanimate universe- where everything is just cause and effect, cosmic billiard balls smashing around, boring old (but awesome if you understand it) Newtonian physics- that’s what I call a rut. That’s what everyone calls it actually. I mean literally in Websters- the definition of animate vs inanimate- the animate makes choices. Some things act and some things are only acted apon.

There are some seriously inanimate people out there.

There really is a strong case for the meat robot theory. By default, that's all we are. But we can chose to be more.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Monday, January 14, 2013

Contact- by Carl Sagan

My parents gave me this book when I was 15 for Christmas. 431 pages of the weightiest Sci-fi I have ever seen. I suspect my mom’s hand in that choice of present. They encouraged Big Thoughts, they assumed I was smart, and went from there. Contact, By Carl Sagan. An unusual choice for a 15 year old?

I read it then, and I guess I liked it, although I didn’t have near enough life experience behind me yet to really appreciate this book.

I reread it when I was 20 or so- I had it with me in Nauvoo, rereading it, while I was rethinking the Big Questions of the universe. It helped a bit. It was with me, sitting on the side of the table at Subway, in fact, when Jerry Bench, the director of the City of Joseph pageant, took time out of his insanely busy schedule to take me out to lunch, offer his mentorship, and friendship, and to tell me that he had been watching me and could tell that I was not a jerk. To the 20 year old Mormon guy who was obviously not out missionary-ing and trying very hard to sort out the Big Questions of life under pretty much a ton of social and cultural guilt pressure, this kind, honest observation and gesture meant a lot.

It was the first movie I saw after my mission, some 3 years later, during which time Carl Sagan had passed. I saw it with Erik and Timpani, the family I wasn’t born into. Loved the movie.

The movie happened to be on TV during Liz and I's honeymoon, so we watched it.

Both covers have fallen off my copy long ago. The title and Carl Sagan’s name barely cling to the spine. Two pin holes in the upper left hand penetrate every single page of my copy. Carl Sagan’s face used to grin out at me from the back cover, back when my copy had covers. The pin holes are exactly where Carl’s nostrils used to be. My awesome sister Renae vandalized my book with a thumbtack at some point, as retaliation for me abusing some book or other of hers. Later, for no reason that I can think of, I decided to extend Carl Sagan’s nostril holes through the entire book. It took several iterations of sticking a pin as deep as possible starting on the page where the last set of holes ended, until the front cover had holes just like the back. Now, although Carl’s picture is no longer there, we still have his nostrils.

I’ve been rereading it again. I love it. Sagan’s dedication to intellectual integrity counterweighted by his sense of wonder and awe strike a resonant chord in me. His unwillingness to sacrifice the rigor of skeptical and honest thought or the love of the miraculous or the miracle of love… This book is like an old friend, like a toasty blanket, like a bowl of hot soup on a snowy day, like sitting over the heating vent, taking in big thoughts in small bites, a few days after Christmas, at age fifteen with a big life in front of you and parents who think you are smart enough to enjoy Sagan.