A Little Privacy, Please?!

quote-all-conditioning-aims-at-that-making-people-like-their-inescapable-social-destiny-aldous-huxley-312195Some people like to tag every moment of their lives – eating, running, sleeping, goofing off, cooking, watching…something… or walking ….through the house…now it’s on the street…nope, catchup….we’re in the yard now….hahahahaha, gotcha, we’re in the forest…beach, now…hurry up, we’re already on the train!!! I’ll confess to being secretly curious over how they pull this off…who is ever there to suspend all those moments and capture them!!?? I always get this sense that God is omnipresent to them, snapping pics as they go as if to document a precious life that may appear as the Second Coming! 🙂 But not everyone is as public about their private lives. Here’s the testimonial of a young woman  who expresses her sense of discomfort over pictures shared on the internet (see here: http://www.gurl.com/2013/05/10/take-down-facebook-pictures-online/). In her own words:

The big thing was that I just felt that they didn’t show “me” the way I worked to convey myself to people. They were old pictures and I was a very different person and I didn’t like these lingering photos making me feel kind of uncomfortable. I just didn’t want them living online.

Now, this is a friend of mine I hadn’t talked to in a couple of years. These pictures were maybe like five or six years old. And yet, I wrote this whole long message about how I would really appreciate if she took down those pictures of me, even though they were untagged. It made me uncomfortable knowing that they existed and I didn’t have final “approval” over them, mainly because they were from so long ago.

My friend was totally sweet about it and took them down. However, it’s probably worth nothing that this is not the first time that I have done this. That’s what is making me worry that I have a tendency to overreact to these pictures that probably to other people don’t seem like a big deal at all. How much control can I have over other people when it comes to their pictures… that happen to have me in them?

It’s unnerving to me that she should be made to feel excessive, over-the-top, hyper-sensitive…take your pick. I have experienced this first hand myself, and truth be told I was not quite as lucky as this young woman. I recall the first time that my very polite request was met with hostility – I believe she said something like: you shouldn’t be in the damn picture if you don’t want people to see it! Interesting assumption! If you’re in a pic expect that it will be uploaded for the world to see. ASTONISHING! She did take it down; but since then I had become more cautious about people snapping pics with their iPhones. Again isn’t this getting things the wrong way around? Should one be mindful of how others invasively snap and post pictures of them; or should one be permitted the luxury to walk this earth without running the risk of being exposed?

Another point that I relate to is how one’s public persona is an outward expression of self. Seen in this light I think it not too outrageous that how and with whom one is depicted can be an issue. And this is not to say that a picture reveals sensitive information, or is somehow untoward, but that it simply does not speak to one’s sense of self, and thereby makes one feel invaded, violated, trampled upon, alienated. Is it too much to ask that a picture that is from days past be removed because it is now the source of embarrassment? Again, there is no outwardly obvious infraction. It is a personalized invested sense of self of which I speak. I can’t know what people have in their minds that are determined to remain silent and yet gleefully in control of your face-online; I can’t know if there are secret agendas, ego-plays, double and triple narratival scenes, regret, impotence, or even an inverted sense of care. All I know, all any of us ever know, is what is made plain to see. And isn’t that the point: where there is no engagement and clarity of spirit, we are all only the sum of our internet parts! 😦

*Though the Huxley quote may seem extreme in this context, it may prove to be hypo-sensitive to the underlying gravity of this scenario.*

Is regret regretful?

So many memes on regret and forgiveness these days. I’m not big on blind or universal forgiveness nor do I argue that regret is regrettable ( 😉 )! A twitter contact invited my reaction to this quote this morning: “Regret is a coping mechanism that, coupled with the luxury of hindsight, fixates on the past overrunning your present. Not very productive”. (Proper practice requires acknowledging one’s sources, but as is typical of social media, this is unknown to me. If you happen to be a Twitter contact, my apologies for this, and please do identify yourself and let me know if these words have been taken out of context or belong to a longer more carefully crafted discussion that you’d want acknowledged.) The first speaks to psychology and the latter to a daunting Christian ethic. Nothing wrong with coping, or coping “mechanisms”, so long as they don’t run the show and become a crutch to evade suffering and owning the events of one’s life. These come in so many forms that they are literally countless. But some of these include distractions in the form of alcohol and drugs, food, thrills, other people, or the more elusive case of maintaining a paradigm with shifting faces (this is the best and most successful kind! 😛 ), work, projects, fitness, and more. I know I’m guilty of more than a few of these. But not all of these are necessarily unhealthy choices, since many of these are at least healthy ways to maintain balance, at least initially, and only ever become unhealthy life-long choices when the real underlying sense of loss and despair is left unaddressed. Regret can be a most healthy and mature route as I have argued in my original blog post (see below). As for fixating on the past such that it overrides the present, this too is not a necessary parable. Indeed, lamenting over the past and feeding a sense of hurt, loss, and/or betrayal is not the same thing as addressing the events of one’s life in a level-headed manner in order to properly (re)orient oneself which can be a tremendously insightful process where one often (insert psychotherapy here) identifies habituated patterns born out of pathologies that are at the core of wrong turns taken along the way, and repeated scenarios that mysteriously (hahahahaha) end the same way. Again, this is liberating and leaves one not harnessed to your past, or any pasts, but able to devise new habitual paradigms which are the game changers of life.

What of forgiveness? Clearly moral, psychological and theological issues arise. I won’t attempt to contribute to this complex debate (see Forgiveness and Christian Ethics (for starters), https://www.amazon.com/Forgiveness-Christian-Ethics-New-Studies/dp/0521878802), but I will say this. Forgiveness cannot simply be a matter of the wronged individual rising above the often malicious or heartless pain and suffering caused by others (either directly to one self or indirectly through others). Not all wrongdoings are created equal, and forgiveness does and (in my books) should reflect that. How and why does one forgive the murderous, tortuous deeds of a Nazi soldier who shows no regret, remorse or even the slightly acknowledgment of wrongdoing, but instead reveals an indignant confidence in his “work”, and the commitment to see the events of the world unfold whereupon he’d gladly take up arms once again? Two issues arise here: the seriousness of the wrongdoing, and the regret of the wrongdoer. The first concerns a complicated relationship between the objective and subjective with regards to evaluating wrongdoings as wrongdoings and determining the degree either according to certain features of the act or intentions of the act itself, and evaluating suffering as suffering and determining the causal relationship between the act and the subjective features of suffering, as well as, the authenticity of said suffering (one might argue that suffering is self-imposed in cases of delusional individuals, unstable, and/or hyper-sensitive individuals). The second concerns the regret of the wrongdoer! Again, I address the issue of remorse in my original blog, but let me say this: acknowledging the pain and suffering caused to others from a psychological perspective can be liberating for the “victim” since it may offer closure (a proper understanding of events can be liberating as when one wants to talk to one’s assailant in order to understand why!!), de-victimize the experience, and/or may entirely alter one’s experience of loss and/or betrayal, as when a feeling of rejection, or callousness turns out to be an expression of the assailant’s defence mechanism (this is a common occurrence when one or both parties of an ended relationship speak ill of each other, begin new affairs within seconds of their demise (the Greeks: we’re nothing if not dramatic! 😉 ), and so on; i.e. this is their expression of loss and a mechanism (yes, theirs! 😉 ) to deal with that loss, and hence a sign not of rejection but of the regret (regret? did I say regret? 😉 ) of the demise, and an expression of continued love and attachment) or may be an expression of one’s moral barometer (this can be the case when someone does something that knowingly will cause another a degree of suffering but which is perceived to be for their own good). There is nothing quite as powerful to the ringing ears of the disparaged, than the words “I’m sorry”! But what happens when “Sorry!” never comes? Psychologists sometimes ban with theologians on this one, and argue that forgiveness is self-liberating. That is, it is through the act of forgiveness that the wronged can move on. But why is this? I submit that it rests in a deeply embedded assumption that emotional restitution craves and hence must have a sense of justice restored. The wronged seek peace in understanding the whys and hows of other people’s choices; sometimes these may be part of a larger more spiritual paradigm, and sometimes it is more of a secular kind of anthropology. In either case, it is understanding within a conceptual paradigm of meaning that explains away the wrongdoing, and thereby appeases one’s feelings of anger, resentment and bitterness. I don’t doubt that. Indeed, it receives a swaggering high five from me – after all what kind of philosopher would I be were I not invested in clarity! ( 🙂 ) What I would argue, however, is that this confuses apples with oranges. Clarity, understanding, and sound reasoning can be used to address cognitive dissonance and it can go a long way in realigning one’s orientation in the world, which is part of the healing process. Still, forgiveness is not at issue or exclusively an issue for the wronged subject, as the example with the ardent Nazi soldier aimed to suggest. A corollary issue is whether an assailant deserves forgiveness. Does this not require that the aggressor actually do something, like perhaps show some regret, or remorse?!!! And backward we go again to consider regret! What happens when they just don’t deserve forgiveness? There’s the hard task of admitting that “shit happens…and sometimes it’s an underserved, inexplicable mass of shit” (as in the case of Nazi survivors, cases like Jyoti Singh (I’ve spoken about this elsewhere: See India’s Daughter) and more!). There are evil people (some may disagree) and events (some may object to the word “evil”) in this world. So I submit, that in part, one must admit that so much that affects and infects us, is beyond our own control (some of which is in the control of those sometimes regretful others) and often there is no rhyme nor reason for it. Indeed, one might even embrace the view that there is, in fact, no universal justice in the world (as I would), but only those human-made paradigms in which and for which justice becomes meaningful. Sometimes, healing and clarity requires being able to live with that!

From a moral perspective, it says that I assume and acknowledge my responsibility in the (perhaps unnecessary) pain and suffering I caused you, and can now with clarity of mind, and liberation of heart, genuinely say I was wrong; that you were wronged, and I regret that! From a metaphysical perceptive it says, that if I could go back and alter the causal events of the world, I would have chosen otherwise, and would, given the opportunity, not have put actions or events into play that caused your suffering.

The Joy of Regret (the original blog post)

More often than not people profess that one should not regret anything one has done because, after all, it got me to where I am now. And strangely even when ‘where one is now’ ain’t so great, bizarrely one draws inspiration from the idea that I would not be who I am were it not for everything that preceded, and I guess not profoundly embracing this notion is blasphemous dribble suggestive of self-annihilation. I don’t agree. I’m so totally with Kathryn.

Do you honestly believe that Biban Janković does not regret slamming his head against the goal post (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boban_Jankovi%C4%87) that caused his paralysis and premature death? What if the late Jyoti Singh (see India’s Daughter) could turn back the clock and not enter the bus from hell? Would she not have chosen to? You can be sure that Stanley Tookie Williams ((http://www.biography.com/people/stanley-tookie-williams-476676) regrets his delinquent ways! Indeed, it was his regret that moved him to change his ways, and though from a prison cell, inspire young hooligans on the fast track to a life of crime, to learn from his mistakes! Regret implies agency  – Kathryn is right about this, no? We cannot regret what we cannot change. I can’t regret being born into a world bent on (still lingering) patriarchal sentiments, any more than I can regret the vicious tragedy that befell the lovely Jyoti Singh. These events were not within my power to effect. But this is not the same as decisions made under my watch, as I surveyed my life. The premise is fallaciously employed retroactively to suggest that because I cannot change the past, and therefore have no control over altering events already transpired, that regret is a futile occupation. Of course, I did have agential authority over events that, despite the initial suggestion, one quite naturally evokes a sense of regret for (“Damn I wish I hadn’t eaten that 2nd piece of cake!” or “Shit, I wish I hadn’t betrayed my wife and pissed my family away!”) which is obviously not the case with regards to those events over which I never had (or could have had) such authority over. Still, many might argue that what is done is done. The past cannot be undone. I cannot claim (or be assigned) agential authority over that. True enough. Except for one thing. Regret is an emotionally charged response to a situation which is perceived to have been under one’s control to effect. This is why often cries of self-admonition – “I wish I hadn’t!!!!”- can be heard over and over again. Sometimes regrets linger and are replayed ad nauseam as one wrestles with the emotional overtures of events one could (often easily) have altered….but didn’t. Regret does not reflect one’s impotency to change the past, but one’s weakness, ignorance, idiocy, delusion, to have acted in a way that one now understands to have been under  (or could have been) one’s control to do otherwise. That’s why I don’t regret what is perceived to have been beyond my control to act otherwise (eg. under coercive threat).

And we do actually believe this. Regret is the moral backdrop (perhaps) of all organized human life where moral culpability plays a fundamental role in the assignment of blame and incurring punishments and penalties. We don’t send sociopaths to jail because they are deemed ill-fit and devoid of the moral sentiments from which a sense of moral culpability is drawn. The point is twofold: (i) Iff one is sound in mind, is one assigned moral culpability (eg. mentally challenged, temporary insanity, psychoses, etc.) ; and (ii) only in cases such as these does one recognize in oneself acts of wrong doing and the ensuing predictable (and I dare say, expected) feeling of regret! The corollary of this view is that such individuals (especially those suffering from psychoses) are beyond rehabilitation because they are beyond redemption. Herein lies the crux of the matter: regret charges one with both the responsibility and motivation to alter one’s ways. It says, in effect, I could have acted differently, if only I had known x, believed y, was willing to see or accept z, and/or had the courage to act accordingly. With foresight in my grasp, I can now tend to these shortcomings in self, and begin my journey towards my own transvaluation of values (well not quite as Nietzsche might have hoped, but perhaps Derek Vineyard’s existential plight in American History X offers some insight – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JsPW6Fj3BUI) and the negotiation of self (so very unlike that more convenient idea with which this blog began where one embraces who one is just because this is how I happened to turn out!!! 🙂 ) more authentically and viscerally realized. It is as Kathryn says, regret only means that I acknowledge in myself the power to be better, the emotional stability to accept my fragility, and the desire to change and make past wrongs right.

Regret at will, I say! It is the healthy choice. And make no mistake, this too is a choice! 🙂

Soulless Faces: An Exercise in Self-Criticism

imagesSince deactivating and deleting my Facebook and Twitters accounts some friends have sought me out to inquiry of my whereabouts and to see if I’m okay. I was moved and thankful to have a handful of people that cared enough to check in on me. “Why did I leave?”, they’d invariably ask. This is a personalized attempt to explain myself. So here goes…

It’s ironic that one of the most faceless platforms should call itself Facebook, unless, of course, one takes seriously the implied aspect of book-keeping. In my mind there is more than the obvious logistic innuendo where one keeps records of the faces one catalogues perhaps cross referenced against # of likes. Maybe that might occupy another blog entry. Today I find  myself engrossed in the addictive and what was an inevitably alienating experience. I won’t take that professorial attitude as one sitting in judgement of others since this is drawn from my own personal experience and may, in fact, speak more to my dispositional orientation to life and inter-human relations than anything else.

Originally this platform provided the means to be reunited and reconnected with family and friends around the world. Greece, Canada, UK, Australia, France, Denmark Sweden, Hong Kong…I could connect with anyone any time. I was actually privy to a live feed of their daily events, thoughts, and relations!!! Pictures, pictures, pictures…of everything! I soon followed suit; a wave of daily posts ranging from the ridiculous and light to the more heavily philosophical. Selfies (as they are now called), group photos amongst friends and my children, as well as scenic shots because my friends wouldn’t want to miss a thing!!! Soon…very soon…I came to see how this platform became a point of reference. People were tracking…stalking?…their “friends”…seemed to know far too much about their lives…but also tended towards the disparaging. “OMG, C posted yet another picture of herself..that’s 50 just today”, “G now has 200 cats!”, “M is single..no wait “in a relationship”…no wait “its complicated”…now it’s “engaged”…WTF? hahahaha”! And then, of course, let’s not forget all the drama on people’s walls out there for the world to see and draw their own fragmented insights from! The greater the outpour of posts, the more invested one tended to become (whether as invisible stalkers…you know, the ones that never post or comment on anything but are there watching …silently…or active participants). Often times I found myself checking for updates! In truth I rarely saw anything that I could not have read a day or week or month later, and yet I’d check that damn thing at least hourly!!!! Smart phones became, in this way, one’s life line. Some can’t part from theirs for a second, taking them to the bathroom with them, driving with it in hand, holding onto it as they “interact” with others, interrupting the fluidity of life unfolding for just another check or another post!  It was important to have a great camera too because one would have to immortalize every damn thing! We’ve cooked a lovely meal for just the two of us…but wait…click the pause button …let’s take a picture. Place the plates just so, angle the light, conjure a clever line, upload…okay we’re good…press pause again to resume your life. Soon sharing amongst Facebook friends wouldn’t be enough and we’d have to share with our Twitter, G+, and Instagram followers! Slowly the line between the private and public waned and though I may not have indulged in this practise all that much I did often feel invaded, my personal space violated and for a time I’d go underground and deactivate. Resurfacing as I inevitably would posts would begin sparingly; commentary occasional, but slowly as “friendships” were rekindled, followings re-established and a playing field resurrected,  these became regular and much care was taken in their design. Slowly I began to feel I lived more for my “artificial” audience than I did my actual one. In honesty, I don’t think the full force of this debilitating experience was more viscerally real to me than when experienced through others. I doubt I am alone in this. It was in seeing parties of people hanging out immersed in their phones, interrupting their fanciful lives only to crowd together posed for a “happy moment” that someone would immortalize and upload to Facebook, Twitter, G+ and Instagram, and then resume their virtual lives (now mostly to see if their picture got any likes or comments) that left me with sorrow. It was the desperation relayed through the screen as people would invite their virtual audiences into their homes sharing privileged, personal information that got to me most. It’s one thing to share all your food updates, recipes, work out regiments, quandaries, ideas, and more but it is quite another to draw the blinds in the hopes that your audience would  delight in your “happiness”! Somehow this too seems part of the industrialization of happiness. This incessant need to show the world that we are happy in the hopes that we may actually be happy. I won’t presume that anyone and everyone that posts these things is not (that would be ridiculous) but I think it’s worth exploring why one would want or need to suspend a beautiful moment just to capture it for a virtual audience, and why indeed one needs to inform a virtual public of one’s personal affairs. This is in my mind all the more complicated by the impact such behaviour often has upon the psyche and lives of others who may be either directly or indirectly implicated. Soon this becomes such a life-sustaining mode of being that paradoxically one tends to the narcissistic and hence self-indulgent craving for the ephemeral and immediate gratification that comes with “acknowledgment” (# of likes, remember?) rather than a more invested and loyal compass that is consoled by a deep and protective consideration for those who have been a real force in our lives.

For myself, I think originally it was an innocent desire to be connected with my friends (FYI I had few friends and only a handful I did not actually know in person) that later became something of an addiction or an affliction! I experienced this addictive force as a vortex spinning with ever greater intensity drawing me further and further in until I was dizzy with nausea and self-loathing. My psyche could not negotiate this virtual world; I can’t interrupt my life without feeling betrayed and estranged to keep up a virtual appearance. This is my issue, so I absolutely do not speak to this experience in order to make a general point. Indeed, I have so many loving friends and family members that seem to have found a comfortable niche which I applaud.

I know there is a much more interesting set of philosophical issues here to be explored regarding inter-subjectivity and binary distinctions between private/public, personal/impersonal, authentic/inauthentic and more. But not every moment is a philosophical moment! Make some room for the more personal! 😉

I will and do miss the warm and enthusiastic good morning cheers from a handful of friends! To all of you: Bless!