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“Doubt Truth to Be a Liar”

I’ve been in a funk lately. Here’s why.

Psychologists use the term “schema” to describe the result of collecting information, analyzing it, and creating a view of the world based on that analysis. A kind of rule book of how things are. These schemata play a part in every decision made, every judgment cast, and every new piece of information we take in for the rest of our lives. It’s a term closely tied to child development–in fact, it was introduced by Jean Piaget, the king of child development himself.

My job as a teacher requires me to observe children under two, record their actions, and ultimate try to guide them by manipulating the information they take in. I give them a bucket of water, they explore the physical properties, I supply the language necessary to categorize them, and then teach them how to clean up. They hit another child and steal his toy, I show them the child’s tears and explain that their actions resulted in someone else’s pain. Everything is a brave new world when you’re brand new to it. Schemata form by the moment. They’re dependent on the environment encountered and the child’s interaction with it. Childhood is, in effect, a 20-year-long experiment in brain development.

Here’s the thing about schemata. They can be very difficult to shake. Another term psychologists like to throw around is “cognitive dissonance.” This occurs when new information presents itself in contradiction to established schemata. The resulting dissonance can be so unpleasant that the individual will go to great lengths to reduce it while maintaining the fundamentals of the established schema, resulting in massively flawed rationalizations. That’s why certain worldviews, like racism, are so hard to dislodge from someone’s psyche.

Last week I endured a viewing of the excellent but brutal Twelve Years a Slave. From our modern, enlightened viewpoint, the white slaveholders in this movie are incomprehensible. Can they not see that their actions have no true basis, are damaging, are fundamentally wrong? We can see it, why can’t they? Our schemata are different. The majority of people in this society are not raised to view entire segments of humans as inferior based on skin color. Though discrimination of course still exists, in both racism and class discrimination, modern enlightened people are not taught that slavery is a god-given right to a select group to subjugate another. So we watch characters behave in intolerable ways and wonder, “How can they be so cruel?” It’s obvious to us.

Benedict Cumberbatch & Chiwetel Ejiofor in Twelve Years a Slave

The most interesting character, in my view, is William Ford, played by Benedict Cumberbatch. Ford is the slave owner who buys main character Solomon Northrup right off the boat, putting him to work on his plantation in Louisiana. Ford quickly discerns the intellectual and artistic capabilities of Northrup and displays a certain amount of kindness toward both his physical and emotional well being, defending him against less compassionate overseers. However, when the time comes for him to make a choice that brings his entire worldview into question, he ultimately fails, and with apparent great inner turmoil. Rather than siding with an individual who had already proven his worth, he chooses to uphold society’s proscribed roles for both of them. You can see the conflict in Cumberbatch’s exquisite acting and in the details of the set dressing, as Ford guards his beloved slave with a shotgun and explains how he has no choice but to sell him to a cruel new master, Northrup’s bloodied head rests on a delicate lace pillow. Ford is so close to doing what he most likely knows in his heart is right, but societal pressures prevent him from overturning his deeply-entrenched schemata. In the end, Northrup is sold, and Ford no longer has to defend his actions to anyone.

All this is by way of illustration. My funk has nothing to do with racism, but it’s an apt analogy, because good people have fallen victim to such lies. Contrary to what people like to think, there were even good Nazis (I keep meaning to watch Schindler’s List). Good people can be taken by lies. They can believe them with every part of their being, and they will die for them. And that’s what scares me, because the people who get taken are much more normal and intelligent than you might think.

Needless to say I am going through a change. It’s been long in coming. Almost my entire life has been dedicated to a single purpose, and over the past seven years or so, in reflection I recognize myself trying to make sense of it. It’s not until your mid-twenties, after all, that your prefrontal cortex fully develops. This is the part of your brain responsible for “executive functions,” which, according to Wikipedia:

differentiate among conflicting thoughts, determine good and bad, better and best, same and different, future consequences of current activities, working toward a defined goal, prediction of outcomes, expectation based on actions, and social “control” (the ability to suppress urges that, if not suppressed, could lead to socially unacceptable outcomes).

Last week I turned 27. Instead of joining the 27 Club, I’m instead learning to think for myself. My schemata have proved to be based on logical fallacies and, in many cases, wishful thinking. It’s all good and well to teach children to obey their parents, but to obey unquestioningly? That’s insulting the intelligence of the child. A child can easily learn why it’s best not to play with fire by playing with it and getting burned. Parents try to avoid that by teaching children to keep their hands off. One method, involving instilling unquestioning obedience, usually results in children testing their parents’ command and playing with fire anyway. Others are more successful. Teaching children how to reason on matters, explaining the facts to them, and helping them form conclusions is more beneficial to the child. After all, the unquestioning child, instead of rebelling against the parent’s wishes, may grow up to fear fire, never learning to discriminate between safe and unsafe use and therefore miss out on the benefits it has to offer.

I am reaching the point in my life where I’m putting what I was taught to the test and discovering where it does not hold up. It is a long and exhausting process, full of disappointment. At times I feel betrayed, but mostly I feel free. Not necessarily free to do whatever I want, like the child who breaks away from mother in a toy store and runs wild, but free to not to be afraid of things that have terrified me my entire life. People are not bad; I do not have to be afraid of them. I can form friendships using good judgment that will benefit us both, unconditionally. I no longer have to turn people away because they don’t subscribe to a particular belief system. I’m free to form connections, share information, and experience love in a way I never could before. 

A little more about that information. It’s the free exchange of information that got me out of this funk. I am grateful to so many people who directly and indirectly were able to remove the scales from my eyes and help me to see reason. If you want more specific information, I encourage you to look at Steven Hassan’s BITE model of mind control. The organization I grew up in hits on all four categories in profound ways.

My goal here is not to write a diatribe against my former belief system. There were many positives to growing up as I did. Other people are working actively to expose the fallacies and are doing much better than I ever could. It is not in me to dwell on so much negativity, although I must admit my first reaction to finding out the truth was anger.

Besides, if I get too deep into the specifics of what’s happening to me, people who read this blog and who currently hold my previous beliefs can get me and my loved ones into serious trouble. I don’t want to cause trouble for my loved ones. I don’t want to force upon them an impossible choice, namely, choosing between me and their beliefs. For my part, I want us all to get along. I want us all to be able to form our own beliefs without fear of reprisal, criticism, or ostracism. If the wrong people gather enough evidence of my “change of heart,” I will be ostracized from the social group I have been in my entire life, and my own family with be restricted from associating with me. I do not want to do that to them, but at the same time, even though they are as much taken by the destructive beliefs as I was, the choice will ultimately be theirs. Believe what others tell them is true, or endeavor to decide that for themselves. And accept the consequences of their actions, just as I have to accept the consequences of mine.

I’ve probably said too much. I have tried to hold back, but my love of truth prevents me.

One final thought about the title of this post. In Shakespeare’s day, “doubt” had the alternative meaning of “suspect.” The line can thus be interpreted to mean “suspect truth to possibly be untrue.” Do not just take someone’s word for it, or the word of a group of people, even every person you know. They can be wrong. Prove it to yourself. Keep testing, keep proving what it is you believe, and never stop.

Alternatively, read George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four. He possibly says it better than me.

2+2≠5

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How Ricky Gervais Learned to Write

“Be honest,” Ricky Gervais says.

Oscar Wilde says, “Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth.”

This is why I believe in storytelling.

Missing the Muse

I’m a fan of Ricky Gervais. I think he is a fantastic writer and comedian. Today I found this interview where he talks about how he learned to write. It’s less than 4 minutes long and a really good thing for any writer to watch. After all, you can’t go wrong with Ricky Gervais!

What do think about Ricky’s writing lesson?

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At Least the Geese Are Happy

Not my “lake,” but similar. From Wikimedia Commons

The old man upstairs is named Jack. He made a point of telling me this on my way back from writing on my favorite bench by the “lake.”

“Good morning, my name is Jack, and I hope all your dreams come true.”

He must have been watching me as he shuffled his way around the “lake,” stopping to peer at things, clucking at the geese. I know I was watching him.

“When do you think they’re going to finish this mess, eh?” He shook his head at the mud wallows, the rotted piles of bulkhead, the excavator quite content to sit there, not excavating. “My name is Jack, I am from New York, and I hate it here.”

A couple months ago, in the middle of another writing session on my bench, another man made it a point to interrupt me and tell me how disgusting my “lake” was.

“Excuse me, excuse me. We used to come here all the time, eight years ago. It used to be beautiful. Pardon my language, but what the hell happened?”

I’m so sorry, I wanted to tell him, that a lake you haven’t seen in eight years is bothering you so much. Come back in another eight years, maybe it’ll be done by then. But he seemed quite angry, so I didn’t think it wise to stir him up any more.

“You can’t let it get to you,” Jack told me. “Not even the traffic. Oy, the traffic! You have to figure out a way to make it good.”

The weather was so nice I wore a sweater, even in the full sun. I told him about riding Marta down to the High Museum of Art yesterday to see Girl With a Pearl Earring. It was much smaller than I thought it would be–both the painting and the exhibition. My husband, who’s from New Jersey, said Atlanta’s idea of public transportation is a joke.

I smiled at Jack, feeling somewhat proud of myself for having meaningful social interaction. “That’s why I sit on my bench, look out on this ruin and tell myself, well, at least the geese are happy with it.”

And the geese are happy. In fact, I think the geese are less bothered by excavators tearing up their home than we are.

(This is becoming an inspirational blog. Many apologies. I’ll try to work on it.)

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I wrote over 2000 words of my WIP today. A very, very good day for me, especially since I finally introduced my gaggle of supporting characters, one of my least-favorite writing chores. Now onto the fun stuff.

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Here is an article from The Rumpus that backs up my suspicions about fiction written to purport an “idea.” I prefer fiction that asks lots of questions, rather than trying to create definite answers. A lot of times, definite answers don’t leave much room for interpretation:

Fiction at its best is not often an argumentative form (the essay is a nice sturdy form if we have a persuasive argument to make). That’s not to say fiction can’t (and doesn’t) have ideas and arguments (though only the best can make this rise above propaganda), but fiction is largely a form of illustration and not explanation.

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Rhett Butler: The Video Game

Here is me trying out the reblog button!

Add Tom Gauld to whatever category Kate Beaton occupies in my brain. (It’s a good place.)

101 Books

Tom Gauld is one clever guy.

Who’s Tom Gauld, you say? He’s the man behind the amazing literary cartoons featured in The Guardian every week.

These things make me laugh. I appreciate anyone who can appreciate literature without taking it so seriously.

And I wish I could draw, just so I could draw stuff like this.

Enjoy.

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Packages Shaped Like Kindles!

Someone’s dear sweet husband just bought her a Kindle. It’s nowhere near our anniversary.

AND he made sure he was in his boxers when the UPS guy rang so I’d have to get it, expecting another one of his quality handcrafted heirloom wardrobe essentials. (The guy at the leasing office knows us so well he just rolls his eyes when we come in and gets up to go rustle up our missed packages.)

It’s sparkly and new, waaay lighter than I expected, like something I’m probably going to sit on and break without even realizing it. We snuggled on the couch while I set it up, got used to the navigation, marveled at how they make adult Etch A Sketches now and we somehow got duped into buying one. I scrolled through the list of free books, downloaded a couple, flipped the pages back and forth just to see the liquid paper molecules rearrange themselves like magic, and giggled more than was necessary.

Fifteen minutes later, I was back on my Chrome Book.

“Why aren’t you reading your Kindle?” my husband asked. Continue reading

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“Greatness” by Eddie Colla

This sassy girl (created by Eddie Colla) inspires me in so many ways. She embodies the attitude I am trying to channel into my WIP and inspires me to get off my butt and write it. She is my main character, Andy, a teenage girl who makes beautiful things with a spray can without asking anyone’s permission. Someday, I want to grow up to be just like her.

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August 20, 2013 · 8:27 pm