Saturday, May 10, 2008

Steve Pavina; How to Be a Man; an Analysis

I've written this post for two reasons, first that Steve Pavlina is good at provoking thought, if not spectacular at being right, and second because to truly understand a philosophy you need to understand the philosopher. You need to know my blind spots, for instance, be aware of my inexperiences, understand my idiosyncrasies in the use of language, and so on.

There's also a small chance that you can learn more about yourself by reading this, or learn more about how to introspect accurately.

The problem with this is that I appear to have MPD, except that the relevant personalities co-exist in time.

Specifically there me who's in mostly in control, and there's a second me.

This second personality appears to have only one goal in life; for it not to hurt. This seems like perfectly respectable goal to me, except this personality seems to be in charge of what hurts and what doesn't, which is clearly a corrupt situation. If it really wanted life not to hurt, while it doesn't appear that it has full control, it could at least tweak the settings so that it's much easier. For instance, it could not put me in double binds.

For example, the dishes. I walk into my kitchen, and there are dirty dishes everywhere. I don't like this, and so I decide that I'm going to do the dishes. I find that I really don't want to do the dishes. So I change my mind. Then I get punished for changing my mind, and reminded that I don't like my messy kitchen.

This is a minor example, but they're everywhere.

Instead, it appears that this personality exists mostly to punish me. It includes my conscience, though that's not its totality. My conscience is not perturbed when I torrent, lie, take advantage of people, manipulate people, am cruelly sarcastic, or display contempt. Instead, it gets upset when I drink. It gets upset when I try to jaywalk. Clearly this personality hates me. (Admittedly it also gets upset when I intentionally inflict pain, or go back on my word.)

Notably, my main personality has its own preferences. I think that my kitchen should be neat, irrespective of whether I enjoy a neat kitchen or not. Also notably, I don't always have this reaction to the thought of dish doing, just sometimes.

The reason this is relevant is that this second personality is an obstacle to my integrity. I cannot act with integrity and appease it at the same time. This wouldn't be a problem if it weren't in charge of my emotions.

I run into dilemmas, again double binds though at least I control one branch of the bind, such as; "I completely disagree with what this person is doing. It's an indication of deep philosophical sickness and I cannot abide letting this person spew their poison at my fellow humans."
"This person's actions and choices are theirs, and they do not want to change. While I can explain how they are wrong, or counterproductive, this would put a lot of stress on this person, with only an epsilon chance of success, where epsilon is the chance that this person is unlike any other person I've ever talked to, plus the chance I say something magically more brilliant than I've ever said.
"Further, since the whole problem is the transmission of falsity rather than its existence, I have an audience. This audience is, more than likely, also going to be disturbed by my attempted defense on their behalf.
"In short, this course of action will lead to you hurting a lot of people, to no purpose. You don't like hurting people, and I'm not going to let you."

The only way I can, to quote, "express his true self" is to do both. I want and need to help/defend the vulnerable. I want and need to not hurt people. In practice, this is impossible. Indeed, what happens if I am actively attacked? If someone says something specifically to me that is contradictory, poisonous, diseased?

I don't particularly need to defend myself; my logic-fu is very strong. Their words are annoying but not ultimately effective. Nevertheless, I cannot abide such attacks. It strikes me as excessively craven, and to not punish it is anathema. Not for my own sake, but in the hope that they may learn something.

Understand that these two impulses come from very different sources. They share my brain but not neurons. I could, technically, decide to abide such attacks, that they are not anathema to me. This is under my power. (For instance if I were assured that epsilon was zero, I would just laugh at people when they attacked me, to let them know I find their attacks humorous instead of effective.) I cannot decide that I am justified in intentionally inflicting pain for no gain, just to "express my true self."

What I can do is suppress this whole personality. It controls my emotions, so my emotions go with it, but its under my power to do so. It gets sulky, as anyone would, but it allows me to go ahead with acting with integrity to my values.

But when I'm suppressing such a large part of myself, can I really be said to be expressing myself? Am I following my heart?

I actually don't know the answers to these questions. While I can predict the actions of this postulated second me, I do not understand it. I don't know what it is or why it's there.

While I suspect that this problem and most of its properties are unique to me, it does have one shared property; you do not control your emotions either. It is likely that when following your heart, you will discover that your values and emotions collide at some point.

When this happens, what do you do? Steve doesn't say, and I certainly don't know.

(I'm basically done my argument with Steve here. Now I'm simply mentioning stuff because it's related.)

One of my particular problems is that after I suppressed this personality, I found that I had to use two words to describe my feelings, and this is one of the reasons I think it's a separate consciousness, not simply some mechanism. I have emotions, but also instincts. I can't perceive my actual instincts of course, they just happen, but I have a number of feelings that feel like instinctual reactions or knowledge. I call them instincts because they are uncannily accurate. You could also call them intuition but they're entirely sensual in nature, not logical.

These feelings are not affected by whether I'm suppressing this second me or not. They inform me with the aforementioned uncanny accuracy on every possible situation, blithely indifferent to second me. Also important, it's not like I stop having emotions. I still get angry and sad and so on, it simply becomes impossible for me to tell the difference.

So, while most of my feelings are dependent on second me, not all of them are. Similarly, the problem of my values clashing with my emotions would not be a problem if my values didn't carry some emotional weight of their own, independent of second me.

The problem is that while my instincts are very useful, they are not rich. I used to have a particular emotion for a wide variety of situations. Waking up felt different each day, while staying up had a small constellation, separate to going to bed on time. Sunsets would have a particular flavour, as would most rooms and any two geographical places that were out of eyeshot. All this is clearly part of me, and yet it disappears when I take the necessary steps to act with 'integrity.' I am, that is first me, is not comfortable thinking that I know enough to intentionally redesign myself like this, quite apart from the fact that, by comparison, the world is pretty monotonous without it. Precisely, I don't lack such a feeling now, but rather everywhere and every time feels the same.

The other problem is that this emotional rebellion is new. I certainly wasn't born with it. I somehow developed it through my experiences, most likely with public education primarily, though my mother certainly played a role.

Something I'll mention because I'm on the topic anyway...

I also have a third me which appears to be the governing consciousness of my physical body. It tells me what I should eat, when I should sleep, what to do when I'm hurt, and if I ask it to adjust some hormone levels, it will gladly oblige. It also has control of whether I feel physical pain or not, in addition to a wart on my right index finger on the left side of the nail level with the quick. It activates this wart when I decide my hands are ugly and makes it go away when I change my mind. (I found this out by accident and then tested it a second time.)

In other words, it talks to me and I can talk to it, if I want. I can ask it to do a large number of things that you'd have trouble believing. It's in charge of the placebo effect, for instance.

This is one of the reasons I think it is also conscious, and that everyone has one. The placebo effect works through your belief and concept system. If you are told you're getting the saline solution, you don't get a placebo effect even if every other factor that leads to it is kept alive. In other words the placebo effect understands the concept of placebo. It's not Pavlovian, but rather understands the world around it, at least to some degree.

I can see the attack here of saying, "but that just means it hijacks your consciousness," but which would only make sense if you were actually conscious of the placebo effect. It's similar to the fact that if you were to feel another person's emotions directly, they wouldn't fundamentally be someone else's emotions anymore, they would be your emotions.

To finish off, I'm going to look at a relevant example of the type of clash I've described. Steve is soliciting submissions for 'How to Be a Woman.' He also said in the article, "A man is the first to initiate a conversation, the first to ask for what’s needed, and the first to say “I love you.”" The relevant detail being that the man steps up and puts himself out there.

So, taking that advice, I should take a risk. I should say, "Well Steve, you're soliciting responses, but I have a response you may not like. I think it will be useful, that perhaps you'll think more deeply about what you say, and may on the off chance actually be able to answer my objection. However, it's not about womanhood at all. And here it is."

I think that piece of advice is, in a general way, good advice. However...

"Steve isn't going to read your article, link to it, or be changed by it. (If you don't believe me I'll gladly submit this article as a test of my theory.) If he reads much of it at all, he will most likely be stressed and discomfited by it, again with only an epsilon chance of having any kind of useful interaction result. You don't like hurting people and I'm not going to let you."

In this case, I'm annoyed that even if I did decide that I wanted to submit it, (the first point actually seems valid to me) I would hate doing so, and in general this stress on my part would only be increased by any answer he'd offer. Despite my values, that I really it's his responsibility to deal with random submissions like this, especially when he's actually soliciting them, and that every opportunity to improve the world, no matter how unlikely, should be taken, I would despise the act of doing so, unless and until he somehow assured me that I had not caused any harm. (Not going to happen.)

While my problems are more widespread that I suspect most people experience, it's almost inevitable that values and emotions will clash. This problem is almost never discussed; the distinction between values and affections never put into words. Nevertheless, especially when offering advice such as Steve Pavlina's, advice which in general is common, this essential and difficult problem is a necessary part of the full analysis. Avoiding is like teaching someone to drive but neglecting to tell them that cars break down.

I'm only 24. I'm not surprised that I cannot answer this question. However, for Steve to avoid it so completely is an act of negligence. Did it not occur to him? Is he truly so unaware? While I can't say for certain, people in his position are generally not unaware, for otherwise a simple heads-up would be sufficient to solve the problem. No, he is either willfully ignoring this problem, or his identity actively depends on its nonexistence.

For a layman to have such a dependence on ignorance or untruth is basically expected. For a professional thinker such as Steve, especially since he's going on about integrity, is unforgivable.

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