Random Encounters: Thinking Beyond the Totality

This post involves a bit of Frankenstein thinking, because two — seemingly unrelated — posts I came across recently made connections for me. Let’s see if I can explain why I think they’re connected. TL;DR: While I have gigantic respect for both authors of these posts, I think both ask us to view things too generally, without paying attention to details that matter.

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Post-Fact Fictions: Let’s Get REAL About Information Literacy

Read more posts about Renewable Experiential & Applied Learning (REAL)

I’m still thinking about the 2016 US election and what it means for the people, ideas and future I care about. One thing that is clear to me is that understanding and participating in such an election calls on all of us—regardless of our point of view—to increase our information literacy and use it to inform our critical reasoning. How’s your statistical and data literacy doing?

Folks are saying we now live in a “post fact” world, but I recognize that “facts” have always been generated within cultural, political, economic, and social contexts. If anything, we are drowning in facts, not sailing away from them. To survive, we need to get better at understanding how facts are now made, circulated, and given value.

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Change Thyself: A Recipe to Overcome Addiction to Thoughtless Conservatism

Used under (cc) from http://www.flickr.com/photos/sophiadphotography/8068255361/

Used under (cc) from sophiadphotography.

My father-in-law, a wise and beneficent man that I’m proud to consider a close friend, recently sent an email to someone politically conservative that I thought was particularly well-written and offers powerful, yet practical suggestions for how someone might begin to wean themselves off what might be seen as an addiction to the worse kind of “conservative” messages that pass in some circles as reasoned political thought.

My father-in-law’s post was inspired in part by an editorial by the New York TimesDavid Brooks: How People Change, and a lecture he attended by Professor David Eagleman, author of Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain, among other works.

With his permission, following is my father-in-law’s recipe for personal political change. I’m sure someone from the other side of the debate (as if there were real debate, as if there were two sides) could come up with a similar recipe to wean someone like me off of what I consider valid, reasoned political debate and get me believing Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh actually made some kind of sense rather than just making money from hyperbole.

1. Prevention: stay away from Beck, Rush, any source that uses incendiary language, which they know excites the emotional centers of your brain, rendering your frontal lobe—the discriminating, judgement, executive functioning part of your brain—mute, and activates the emotion-tagged memory part of the brain (the limbic system), both of which are working away muscularly “under the hood” out of awareness. Stay away from sources that regularly excite feelings of “righteous indignation” for the same reasons, however tempting they may be.

2. Put money on the line: Put 100 dollars in the hands of someone else which will be contingent on your changing. For example, if you don’t follow through, the money will be given to MOVEON.org.

3. Engage in social supports: Announce your intentions to cut off contact with Rush, Beck, evangelical groups, routine email pieces that reinforce above themes . Announce and seek support for involving yourself with the Southern Poverty Law Center for example.

4. Feelings: Use negative feelings such as anger as welcome cues to look at whether they are attached to old undesired beliefs and understandings. Remind yourself that these are old and no longer work for you and reward yourself with substituted positive feelings of heightened self regard as you turn to new desired beliefs and attitudes. Reward yourself with a cup of fresh coffee as you pick up the New Yorker or some other news source that fact checks information. Activate feelings of altruism associated with support of genuinely needy persons who lack the resources to improve their lives.

5. Habits: Embed 1-4 in a consistent routine which is laid out in detail. The guiding notion is repetition. Remember that the brain is plastic, but it needs lots of practice to create new grooves. I personally think of 3 months as a useful interval to create a new personal narrative with sufficient robustness to resist backsliding. Long term memory works that way. It takes time, and memory tagged with strong emotion is especially resistant to change. So be patient. Backsliding is just another opportunity to rehearse the above. In due time we might have a different dance

The Insteadness You’ve Been Waiting For! Now Online!

The other day, my wife and I went to hear this writer, Jonathan Lethem, speak at the Portland Arts & Lectures series.

Mr Lethem gave a very interesting—and funny—talk about a variety of things. I think I’ll read some of his books. But what really happened was his talk made me start a new website: insteadness.com.

The most interesting thing to me in his talk was when he started explaining this word/concept he had made up: insteadness.

As I understand insteadness, it is the thing we focus on when we should maybe focus on something else. Jonathan told a longish—but funny—joke to explain it, but I don’t think it would be that funny to repeat here. It involved a conference of parapsychologists and a goat—you get the idea.

Suffice it to say that Jonathan’s idea of insteadness was pretty rich: you could see insteadnesses as bad (they distract us from what we should be paying attention to) and as good (maybe all art is really the creation of insteadnesses).

So I decided that maybe this whole idea of insteadness needs more work, and, for lack of a better idea, I set up a website at insteadness.com so we can get started.

I invited Jonathan to weigh in/help out at insteadness.com, but he hasn’t gotten back to me yet. He’s probably busy with something else instead.

I put up one insteadness already as an example, but we need more.