Truth Seeking: a final (?) digression.
A week or so ago and as the freest of my free time drew to an end, I spent several hours composing a post in the series “Truth Seeking”. I composed it in WordPress, posted it, and saw it transpose from the article I had written into the new title I had chosen and a repeat of a book review I had posted only a little earlier in the week. The whole new article and the work it contained simply disappeared.
I have to start again, from the very beginning, and having learned my lesson am beginning in a word processor. My apologies for the delay.
A further digression:
Whilst I want, very much, to get onto that curious question, “What exactly is sex?” there is something else which needs to come first, tying-in with the concepts already raised:
- The human brain enjoys ‘games of deduction’ and searches out the hidden.
- Our brain uses our bodies to send and receive signals, of which many are unconscious, subconscious signals.
That the first is the case is scarcely debatable. In origin perhaps a defensive mechanism enabling us to understand potential benefits and dangers in the unseen and the partially-hidden around us, it is a major part of what we are. Whilst some might object to the concept that we may constantly have an unavoidable awareness of the bottoms, breasts and other private parts that clothes are ostensibly intended to conceal, there is no great surprise in some societies that deductive ‘seeing’ rather than deliberate ‘looking’ may enable some to detect the bulge of a concealed weapon under a jacket. We need also to explain the endless interest to all of us in forms of deduction as entertainment, including Sudoku, crosswords, quizzes, who-dunnits and the rest.
In the patch pocket tightly stretched I ‘see’ a small rectangular shape and easily deduce that it is a mobile phone. I can’t tell you what colour or model it is, but I ‘know’ what I am seeing. In the jeans tightly stretched I ‘see’ curves and I know they are not a pair of water-filled balloons. I am not choosing to ogle, I am merely ‘seeing’ with the information already contained in my brain.
Explain, otherwise, the attraction of the bikini. Ostensibly it conceals yet, in practice, it draws direct attention to that which it pretends to hide.
The second is likewise – I believe – virtually irrefutable. I read recently that ‘make-up’ was first used by men, long, long ago, and that kind of surprised me. In reality, however, this does not contradict the essential concept that what is worn upon the face is and was intended to emit signals, even if the signals intended were not always the same.
The reality – I believe – remains that modern cosmetics radiate sexualised signals of which both the sender and the recipient may not be entirely conscious.
The next step has to be that other digression I mentioned and concerns two fundamental beliefs of my own:
i) That the most dangerous lies are the lies we tell ourselves.
ii) That the human brain is an environment in which, to a very profound extent, we live, and that we shape it – consciously or otherwise – for our own comfort.
As the would-be dieter asserts “one more biscuit won’t harm me”, the smoker “one more cigarette’, the alcoholic “one more drink” there are times when most of us – I believe – are tempted to lie to ourselves. “Another ten minutes in bed and I’ll still have time to get to work”, “Another ten minutes playing Grand Theft Auto and I’ll get enough sleep before school tomorrow”, “So we haven’t got a condom; unprotected sex with this clearly fine and honourable would-be lover isn’t going to give me (a) an unwanted pregnancy, (b) an STD”. “All politicians are the same; voting is a waste of time”. “He says he loves me and will stop beating on me and I believe him”,“When she says ‘no’ she’s really saying ‘yes’”, “She was asking for it”.
From little lies to lies of devastating enormity, most of us deceive ourselves at least some of the time.
The environment of the mind.
Whether it’s by way of a furry gonk dependant from a PC, a photograph of a loved one on our desk or as a screensaver or the immediate adjustment of the height and ankle of our seat, our first instinct at the work-station is to make its environment as comfortable and comforting as we can make it. At home the same dynamic extends to the meals we eat, the curtains we hang, the décor of our rooms, the knitted toilet-roll cover in the bathroom and the positioning of that one key cushion on the sofa. In the car we adjust temperature settings, the tilt or height of the driver seat and make a selection in our in-car music. Just as the bird feathers its nest, we adjust the environments in which we exist to suit our greatest comfort. To do otherwise is considered strange.
Living in the physical world we live also in our minds. Thinking never really stops, reacting never stops until we die. We can deliberately modify our emotions by a choice of environment, by visiting a place (physically or mentally) that is of significance to us, by reading a book, listening to music, contemplating a work of art or watching a movie. We can do this, and we do do this.
We like to keep our minds comfortable, and this – very often at least – is a function of the self-deception I mentioned earlier.
Sitting comfortably at home we may turn the page of a newspaper, look away from the TV screen or change channels when suddenly confronted by images we do not want to see, because our minds are discomfited. When we realize that we have made a potentially humiliating mistake – forgetting a business appointment, forgetting an important anniversary, forgetting that we’d promised to be home by a particular time and returning to an incinerated dinner, our first instinct is usually to seek excuses – and for excuses read ‘lies’ – that will ameliorate the situation and, crucially, make our own minds more comfortable. Even in ourselves we will seek to excuse ourselves – ‘Well it’s not really my fault that I’ve been so busy…’ because there are times when it is uncomfortable to see who we actually are.
“On the other hand, one who has cultivated the art of reading will instantly discern, in a book or journal or pamphlet, what ought to be remembered because it meets one’s personal needs or is of value as general knowledge.”
“The art of reading consists in remembering the essentials and forgetting non essentials.”
Unable to find the specific – possibly misremembered – quote I wanted, these will have to suffice. They are words written by Adolf Hitler in his book “Mein Kampf” which, taken together, demonstrate the power of self-selection and self-deception. In essence, Hitler read with an agenda, accepted as evidence what he wanted to believe and rejected out of hand anything which contradicted the ‘evidence’ he sought.
He chose the furniture which brought the most comfort to his mental environment.
Vexed by the question of how much influence the media actually had in UK politics, significant studies were undertaken and came to a depressing but unsurprising conclusion; people absorb the information they want to absorb.
If a newspaper is telling you something you don’t like, buy a different newspaper. Indeed, make sure you go first to the newspapers which you know already are comfortable to your mind-set. If you’re a UK Conservative you avoid what remains of the Labour and Liberal Press. An editorial in the Independent is not going to impact significantly on the Conservative voter because he/she will never read it. An editorial in the Sun (UK) is not going to impact significantly on the Liberal voter for exactly the same reason. We are tribal in our loyalties because the tribe is a comfortable place to be.
It is this which makes so much of the media, including social media, so often a waste of time and effort. People develop a mind-set with which they are comfortable, a mind-set full of ‘common sense’ that is neither ‘sense’ nor ‘common’ but which meets their needs.
The haters hate because hating meets a need of their own and, often, because they are afraid to question the reason for their hate. Questioning upsets the mental equilibrium, discomfits the mind. Nonentities hate most easily, perhaps, because they are nonentities and because their hate gives them commonality with a particular tribe of haters, gives them a significance they don’t already have, allows them to despise others as much as they feel themselves to be despised, provides a raison d’etre.
But it is not only others, not only nonentities. We are all tempted to lie to ourselves in order to achieve a comfortable mindset, and that is the reason this piece has gone on so long.
Whatever belief I hold I must, in honour, try to question it and continue to question it until and unless I can come to an absolute certainty. Whenever a belief I hold offers me comfort, I must question it all the more intensely because I am human, vulnerable, and possibly therefore inclined to hold to beliefs BECAUSE they are comforting.
A belief offering comfort is not automatically wrong. It is, however, because it offers us comfort, something we need to question.
Henceforth I will be questioning some of those beliefs, beginning, at last, with ‘What exactly is sex?’
You’re quite right, of course, about questioning our own beliefs and considering others, but at my age I really can’t cope with trying to see the possible validity of, for example, homophobia, or the notion that people are poor (or otherwise challenged or afflicted) because they deserve to be. Which may bear out the contention that old people like me are the most set in their ways.
If your beliefs about the wrongness of homophobia and not blaming the poor for their poverty, questioning them can only bring them back stronger. For that reason, if no other, it’s worth taking that chance (in my view). And I don’t think you’ll find young people much less set in their ways either. Rigid, unquestioning beliefs become more important to the younger generation when so much else is uncertain.
Will look forward to the sex post!