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14 October 2012

existential bones

It's very easy to get content-oriented and think that all we can know, can be thought. There's a problem with that. We think about ourselves thinking, but there are very few thoughts that are truly free of encumbrance. We're always thinking about who's doing the thinking. Because our gut-level instincts are cemented by age 10-12, who we become is who somebody else thought we were. This shapes our developmental trajectory, which becomes introjected, which becomes part of our Self. (This is using Leon Festinger's theory of cognitive dissonance.) We then lock ourselves into a role, shaped by that developmental trajectory, which reinforces or diminishes our conception of our Self. If our views of ourselves came largely from our gut-level images and emotional programming, and if those come from somebody else, and then those roles confirm that, and those roles are related to our Ego (Self), by the time we look at a terrorist and ask who they are, there are many levels of lens through which we must peer, thus creating nearly immeasurable distortion.

We need to get beyond descriptive and get to the analytic. "Because of" is descriptive; "I did A because of B, but I also did A because of who I am." We have to look at the energy of who one is, and who one believes ourselves to be. A terrorist might say "this is who I am," but who they are is not who they thing they are - this is true for all people - and "this is who I am" is descriptive; it's an adjective that describes an aspect of how they see themselves, but does not actually define who they are. The people who are living their authentic selves don't have to describe what they are; when asked, they might not know what you're asking. Remember when Mother Teresa was asked why she was so charitable, she replied that she wasn't charitable - she was just doing what needed to be done. 

[From my notes, from the Psychology of Terrorism class I'm taking; this is a moderately paraphrased transcript of the actual lecture.]

So how to we get to the core, the root, the real person? How do we get there without being descriptive? The psychotherapist trained in existentialist theory would say, 'be what you describe; if you feel you are A, then really be A, and see where that takes you. Be fully in every moment, and strip that moment from its connections - just Be.'


I don't know about that 'just be' bit. Living fully in the moment has been a mixed bag, in my experience. On one hand, I need to do more connecting the dots of my experiences. Alternately, I am happiest when I'm only in the moment, and not re-living all the mistakes of past as though there were a vindictive broken record in my head.

But I understand, too, what his point was. When I paint, I don't know how or why I do it; I just paint. There's no purpose, other than to be. 


  1. Anonymous17:25

    This is what the Archangel is, an ideal of powerful, effective good. A worthy template upon which to build a life. If we are who we conceive we are, then why not be Superman? Just try it. So many execute every moment of their lives in selfish futility, that the faintes effort at rightness makes a hero nowadays. So I AM the Archangel, and it is my responsibility to make it true, it is my presumtion upon entering every moment of my life. Even falling short, it is the norm to which I return upon righting myself. A good place to be. A beacon of good, protector of the weak, provider of valuable help: meat, bread, shelter and safety in hard times. Speaker of truth, source of good advice. A man who forces forward and upward, topmost in priority, his practical and emotional consideration of others over consideration of self.

    This is a useful thing to be in this world, and is summed up im my western religious concept as an Archangel. They are also handsome, good fighters and well thought of by the ladies, see Genesis. (There is consideration of self embedded in all choices, I know. So much more important then, to wed the benefit of others to such ends.) I have made it cool to be good in my own mind. It seems to work, so my loved ones tell me.

    1. The choices you make, become who you are; most people never stop to think about that. If you do what you are driven to do, you will become yourself - wherever that self should be.