Tag Archives: ego

The Prodigal Son’s Older Brother and the Conservative Mind

In a previous post I wrote about how Christ’s parable of the prodigal son gives insight into the dynamic of ego and shame. I recently re-heard this reading and was struck by how the older brother in this story provides valuable insight into the mind of the anti-liberals who write and contribute to the Orthosphere and other related blogs. I use the term “anti-liberal” rather than conservative because this group of people are far to the right of what would pass for an average Republican in the United States. For example, some of them advocate a return to Monarchy. Some reject the notion that freedom is a good that a society should strive for. What seems to bind them is their rejection of liberalism, leaving aside the fact that it is always unclear just what any one person on these blogs actually considers a liberal to be.

In the parable of the prodigal son, the younger son of a rich man asks his father for his inheritance. His father gives it to him and the younger son then goes away and squanders his money on riotous living. He subsequently falls upon hard times, sees the error of his ways and returns to his father begging for forgiveness. Surprisingly, the father welcomes him home with loving arms. He clothes his son and orders the slaughtering of the fatted calf in celebration. Meanwhile the older brother who had remained loyal all this time arrives home from working in the field to see this new state of affairs and becomes angry. When his father tries to convince him to join the feast he retorts:

‘Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!’

LK 15:29-30

We can all sympathize with the older brother. Surely there should be some reward for remaining loyal. At the very least there should not be a reward for disloyalty and sinful behavior. On the other hand, the older brother is using his loyalty to justify his lack of compassion and his judgment of his younger brother. In a very similar way the folks at the Orthosphere seem very justified in judging and blaming liberals for all the evils in the world.

Now the father in the parable represents God the Father. His attitude is love and compassion and does not seem to be concerned with matters of fairness, property or finances. To him, the important thing is that the prodigal son has returned. To the older son the father says:

‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.’

LK 15:31-32

Jesus ends the parable here leaving it unclear as to whether the older son was convinced by the father’s argument. I suspect that he is not, primarily because the father’s argument does not provide any new knowledge that the older son does not already possess. The older son already knows that he shares in the father’s property. In fact, this is probably part of what is upsetting him because the return of the younger son presents a challenge to the remaining portion of the father’s estate that he will eventually come to own. The fact that the younger brother was ‘lost’ and is now found probably does not change the older brother’s attitude either because while the younger son was lost he was doing all the things the older brother had the discipline not to do.

The part of the parable that does not fit the analogy where the Orthospherians are the older brother, God is the father and liberals are the younger brother is that the prodigal son actually returns to the father. In the view of the Orthospherians the liberals left with their inheritance a long time ago and never came back. They are the ones who remained loyal and are out working in the fields. Perhaps the fact that the liberals have not yet returned justifies the Orthospherian lack of compassion and judgment of them. Perhaps they would in fact join God in a feast if the liberals ever returned. But I am not so sure about that.

I suspect most liberals would interpret this parable differently as it relates to them. I suspect at least some of them would argue that they never left with their inheritance in the first place and continue to work the fields with their older more conservative brother. Perhaps they would argue they work on opposite ends of the field but are still working in the field none the less.

 

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Message Boards and Comment Sections Part II

In my last post “Message Boards and Comment Sections” I talked about how debates in these particular forums almost always turn into a battle of egos rather than an honest and authentic discussion of ideas. True to form a debate followed in the comment section where this very dynamic played itself out. Ostensibly the debate concerned whether there are any free societies and whether the freedom of citizens is a good and proper goal to which a government to aspire. But as the process played out I found myself in the anxious situation where I felt the need to respond to every comment (or risk tacitly conceding a point) and then dreading seeing the the little red circle pop up indicating that a new comment had been made.

Although to a certain (not insignificant) extent there was an interesting and legitimate exchange of ideas there was also an underlying current of egoism which over time increased in importance. Eventually, the ideas of the discussion became the weapons used to fight a battle of egos. I certainly am not accusing my worthy opponents of being entirely responsible for this. I, by no means am innocent of this process. (In fact, I wrote a book about my prior experiences and lessons learned in this world.) Perhaps because of these experiences I am simply more aware of of the dynamic. I suppose I also have to accept the possibility that I am the only one who is really experiencing this dynamic and that I am projecting my experience on to the other people. But, I say that more as a disclaimer because I truly believe this is what is playing out despite any potential denials or protestations I might receive in the near future.

More and more I find this decent into egoism to be a drain on my energy. There is certainly a part of me (my ego) that has a strong desire to jump back into the game and in the short run this game can be very exhilarating. But like all addictions, the short term benefit gradually becomes overwhelmed by the long term detriments.

At this point I am weary of writing another post on a political topic because I (sort of) dread the debate that ensues in the comment section. I dread the feeling of having to respond or risk a humiliation however small. This is not to say that I will never reengage with the game. Like all addicts I suppose that I will relapse and come back to the well eventually. And honestly, I do feel lately I have been gaining an education and questioning some liberal beliefs I have held that frankly could use some questioning.

I even have a topic in mind that I have been mulling over. These topics tend to sit in the back of my mind for a while gaining mass and organization. At a certain point they achieve a critical mass and then push themselves forward out onto the page. This is the way it always happens. The cycle will repeat.

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Message Boards and Comment Sections

I have been involved in many conversations on message boards and in blog comment sections over the years. Very few of these conversations have been respectful and compassionate although this sometimes occurs. More often these conversations start as a difference of opinion about a specific issue but then morph into a battle of egos. Neither side will admit this of course. They always couch their position as if it is motivated chiefly by a search for the truth. This proclaimed motivation, however, is almost always betrayed by the snarky, sarcastic quality the comments take on and by ad hominem attacks made against the person espousing the opposing position.

I should know better than to get sucked into these debates. They always end up the same way, sour my mood and muddle my thought process. But this is the nature of an ego based exchange. As I said, ad hominem attacks (as opposed to an honest discussion of the issues) is a good indicator that the conversation has turned in this direction. Another indicator is when the debate replays itself in my mind when I am not actually engaged in the debate. This is the ego preparing itself for the next round. And the goal is not really to show the opposing side the errors of his ways. The goal is always to humiliate the other side. This is why it always gets personal.

I have my theories as to why a person chooses to make a debate personal. Choose is actually the wrong word because this decision is made on a very primitive and neuro-chemical level. That is, reward chemicals are released when a person senses that he has humiliated his opponent through text. Over time his brain rewires itself in response to this reward. Through this rewiring he becomes addicted to the reward and then acts on it through compulsion.(1) This is why a troll does what he does. But the question remains why these chemicals are released in response to this scenario in the first place. It seems highly likely that this neural pattern is based on prior experiences of being humiliated (probably by primary care takers at an early and formative age). This creates the mechanism that rewards humiliating other people.(2) But often within the throws of an exchange it feels like a struggle for the truth is at stake. It is forgotten (or never known in the first place) that the real motivation is to humiliate the other even though this motive remains alive and well on a subliminal level.

Another aspect to this dynamic is a failure (or refusal) to appreciate the other person’s position. Once things get personal this obstinance only calcifies. For example, Zippy talks about the positivists wearing blinders in the following passage:

For sane people, a real counterexample calls for revision of the theory or metaphysics which its existence contradicts. For positivists, a real counterexample is something to be dismissed unless it can be incorporated into positive theory.

However, he fails to see the beam in his own eye in this respect when it comes to his obsessive anti-liberal stance. He is so wedded to his own belief that liberalism is the cause of all evil in the world that he dismisses out of hand all counterexamples (usually with an  ad hominem attack thrown in for good measure). Moreover, within the echo chambers of the comment sections of the Orthosphere and his own blog his absurd points of view are largely confirmed. The best example I can give as to this is his argument that the USA and North Korea are equally free societies. (See the comment section to this post). I can only attribute his ability to believe this to the fact that he has a loyal band of people who readily agree with him and reinforce this belief. Unfortunately, such is the post truth / alternative fact world in which we now find ourselves living.

In closing, I write this post mainly to put a bookend to this series of posts I started writing a while back. It started when a self proclaimed white supremacist and Orthosphere commenter by the name Thordaddy start spamming my blog with literally hundreds of comments. Something I said clearly irked him and he made it his mission to read all my posts and comment copiously on them. I sort of enjoyed this for a while because it gave me a wealth of material on which to write. But as I mentioned before this type of exchange eventually becomes emotionally and spiritually draining. Later I started engaging the more sane contributors on the Orthosphere in an honest attempt to understand their point of view. This worked for a while. My original position was merely to document my thought process as I followed their arguments and evaluated the natural counter arguments that arose in response. But eventually that position devolved into the present position where I find myself engaging in silly debates about whether a person can coherently say he would rather live in a free society such as the USA over an un-free society like North Korea. The answer is obvious to me and it is equally obvious that any further debate would only serve to feed each other’s ego. It is Lent after all and I would rather follow the advice of St. Paul and set my mind on things above rather than earthly things. (Col 3:2)


(1) See The Cure for Alcoholism, Roy Eskapa, PhD, (2008)

(2) See Healing the Shame that Binds You, John Bradshaw (2005)

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Readings for Ash Wednesday

Even now, says the LORD,
return to me with your whole heart,
with fasting, and weeping, and mourning;
Rend your hearts, not your garments,
and return to the LORD, your God.
For gracious and merciful is he,
slow to anger, rich in kindness,
and relenting in punishment. (JL 2:12)

There is an interesting nexus of psychology and spirituality in the readings for Ash Wednesday as observed by the Roman Catholic Church. The first reading from The Book of Joel talks about authentically returning to God. This is to be done with your “whole heart.” That is, without mental reservation or purpose of evasion to use the language of the Presidential Oath of Office. Nor is this to be done through compulsion but of one’s own volition. We are told to “rend [our] hearts, not [our] garments.” Again, the actions (specifically fasting, weeping and mourning) must be accomplished on the deepest level of the self as opposed to making a show of action or pretending to act. But what exactly is the action we are to take? What does it mean to return to God whole heartedly? It seems the action of fasting is an act of self sacrifice. It is intentionally taking on discomfort as an act of devotion to a greater good above the self. The weeping and mourning suggest that there is sadness and loss in a return to God. Are we mourning the loss of our earthly lives and desires? Are we mourning the loss of the self? Is this not something we should readily give up without a sense of loss? Perhaps if one is honest there will always be a sense of nostalgic loss anytime one is either separated from God or returning home from this separation.

Jesus said to his disciples:
“Take care not to perform righteous deeds
in order that people may see them;
otherwise, you will have no recompense from your heavenly Father.
When you give alms,
do not blow a trumpet before you,
as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets
to win the praise of others.
Amen, I say to you,
they have received their reward.
But when you give alms,
do not let your left hand know what your right is doing,
so that your almsgiving may be secret.
And your Father who sees in secret will repay you. (MT 6:1-6)

In the Gospel reading Jesus speaks of not letting the left hand know what the right hand is doing when giving alms. In other words Jesus instructs us not to let the ego take credit for the act of charity as a means of self aggrandizement. This is not merely giving alms in secret so that other people do not see you and give you credit for the act. This is giving alms (in a sense) in secret so that your self (i.e., ego) does not take credit for the act. Again, we are talking about authentic action but perhaps even a level deeper than what Joel described. In this way, your Father who sees in secret will repay you. In a sense this might seem to be an act of trickery – that is, the ultimate goal is to receive payment from the Father who sees in secret. But if we are to follow the theme of authentic action to receive authentic results then this payment by the Father who sees in secret cannot be a kind of payment that the ego would find pleasing. It must be an authentically Good and True form of payment. It is as if Jesus is trying to explain something selfless and non-egocentric in the language of the ego as if that is the only language his disciples could possibly understand.

 

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The Solipsism of Creativity

img_0810For me, creativity is the joy of life. It is also a delicate fire that can be easily put out if not properly nurtured. Being creative requires a willingness to fail. It seems that for every ten failures there is one success. Very often that one success is not possible without those ten preceding failures. Being creative (at least for me) requires a certain level of exposure. There has to exist the opportunity to be judged by others to raise the stakes and risk catastrophe. This raising of the stakes gives it an energy that it would not otherwise have. This means that creativity requires a willingness to be vulnerable. In this way there are two counterbalancing forces at play. On the one hand creativity requires nurturing but on the other it must also risk negative judgment.

I make myself vulnerable in this way on a weekly basis when I write this blog. I write about what I am thinking. I enjoy the process of creating and putting it out there. The fact that what I write can be read by other people matters more than whether it is actually read because all of this is an internal and solipsistic process. In other words it is my own anticipation of my writing being read by others that (to a certain extent) fuels the fire of creativity

On the other hand there are very real, judgmental and sometimes hostile voices out there. These voices can manifest themselves as actual people in my blog’s comment section or as an internal critical voice. To a degree I enjoy their hostility because there is a power in getting their reaction. This is an ego based sort of enjoyment and as such is ultimately self annihilating in nature. As is the judgmental hostility it is interacting with. For this reason this enjoyment is something that I am not all together comfortable with. There is also a certain amount of defiance of this hostility on my part at play in this dynamic. This also fuels the fire. Moreover, if I were to not write and publish for fear of being judged I would only be stifling myself. This is a another form of self annihilation. So I must write.

These hostile forces share similar qualities. They all seem to take offense at true expression on supposed moral grounds. This is always the way with the ego who is threatened by the free expression of others. The ego is always comparing itself to others and placing everything on a hierarchy. It is threatened by the idea of equality and it employs shame to create this false hierarchy very likely because that weapon was used so successfully on it. I suspect there is jealousy at play here. The hostile force’s free expression had been shut down by shame and so it cannot bear to see free expression in others. It touches a point of pain that is too much to endure. Because it cannot be free no one else can be either. It sees freedom as rebellion and radical autonomy. It denies that freedom is actually the expression of one’s true nature which is the expression of God’s will.

 

 

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The Requirement of Beliefs Part II

pxA few posts ago I explored the topic that some religions require belief in order to receive or achieve salvation. The word “salvation” can take on different forms depending on the religion. For this reason, I am using the term loosely in the present context. Having personally been brought up in the Roman Catholic form of Christianity I approach this topic from that perspective but really my question as to why this belief is required is not strictly limited to Christian dogma. In the blog post I specifically referenced chapter 3 verse 26 in The Book of John which reads, “He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him.” To properly explore this topic it is first necessary to examine what a belief is.
Beliefs are essentially ideas or thoughts in the mind. Accordingly, the question behind the exploration has to do with why would the gatekeeper of salvation care whether its adherents experienced these thoughts called beliefs? If the gatekeeper of salvation is divine and not dependent upon any external factors for its existence why would it be so interested in this one particular external factor? I suppose one answer to the question is that the belief is for the benefit of the person trying to achieve salvation and not for the benefit of the divine dispenser of salvation. But John 3:36 expressly states that not believing brings about the “wrath of God” which implies that God has some stake in this thought called a belief existing in the mind of that person seeking salvation. This could be metaphorical language but that is not at all certain. As such the question remains unanswered.
It must be understood that I am not questioning whether these beliefs are valid. I am simply questioning why these beliefs are required. If the comment section of Part I is any indication, this distinction seems to be difficult to understand for some people. Interestingly, the personality type represented in the comment section seems to be very threatened by any exploration of this topic. A perusal of the comment section of Part I of this blog will provide examples of this. For questioning this requirement of belief I was accused of hating God. My question was rephrased as an argument on my part that hating God should carry no consequences and that the actual consequence for making this argument (that I did not make) was my own annihilation. These counterarguments (made against an argument I never made) were written in sporadic ALL CAPS which gave the impression that this commenter’s emotions were raised and that his emotion guided his rhetoric. Also notice that the emphasis on the counterargument was not the merits of the requirement of belief itself but rather on how I was wrong as a person for even asking the question. Another interesting point is that this accuser denied John 3:36 even expresses a requirement for belief in the first place. I think any reasonable person would read this passage to require belief in the Son in order to have eternal life. Moreover, the passage also clearly expresses that if this requirement is not met then a punishment will be meted out. But the commenter seemed to argue that interpreting this passage as expressing a requirement was somehow in error although he did not clearly articulate a logical foundation for this point.
Mind you, I do not want to engage in another pointless debate with this person because I have been down this road so many times on this blog and it is indeed pointless. Accordingly any comment he posts will be deleted. The only reason I brought him up was to provide an example of the egoic push back this question receives. This quality of being threatened when beliefs are questioned seems to be emblematic of the ego. The fact that the ego seems so invested in belief makes the requirement of belief for salvation questionable in my mind. Let me be clear. I am NOT questioning the validity of beliefs or really whether the reason for the requirement is sound. I simply do not understand the reason why this requirement exists and am exploring this lack of understanding by articulating the thoughts that come to mind as I explore it. (I have no illusion this distinction will be meaningful to everyone who reads it).
I think it can be argued that questioning beliefs or faith can lead to a deepening of beliefs. An unquestioned belief has a shaky foundation because it has not tested itself against the facts that may disprove it. As such, the unquestioned belief has no defenses to these facts. However, a belief that has been tested against facts that might disprove it has been inoculated against those facts. But really, this argument is just intellectual play. It is the reinforcing of beliefs (which are thoughts) with other beliefs and thoughts. It becomes circular after a while and brings a person who engages in this sort of thing only so close  to the truth. So again I arrive at the question, why is there the requirement of belief and why are there those who are so egoically invested in keeping this requirement unquestioned?
There are examples of Saints who have questioned their beliefs. Saint Mother Teresa wrote on numerous occasions about how she questioned her beliefs. Saint Thomas the apostle of Jesus also questioned belief without direct proof. Jesus castigated him for this when he said “…Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.” (John 20:29). Again we see this emphasis on belief and from the same gospel to boot. Interestingly, in the Gnostic tradition, Thomas is revered for his questioning attitude. Equally interesting is the fact that Gnosticism was declared a heresy by orthodox Christianity.
So the question exists. Why is there a requirement of belief for salvation? Moreover, there also exists a force which is interested in blocking this question. Why this dynamic exists I do not know. But I think there can be no sin in asking a question. I think this is true because logically, no amount of questioning can undermine the truth for the reason that the answers to these questions (if truthful) should only serve to reinforce the truth. I suppose one could counter argue that by asking questions and receiving false answers one could be misled to a dangerous place. But if that is the case, then these unquestioned beliefs are robotic and lack authentism. If God requires belief then I have to think that He would want a whole hearted belief that has been tested and found to be true as opposed to a belief that was adopted for no reason or because the believer was socially pressured into believing.

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Troll Jujitsu

trollI have tussled with a troll on my blog lately. I shall not name him directly in this post but anyone can review the comment sections of other posts I have written to know who I am talking about. Like all trolls he has an over inflated ego and sees (or at least presents) himself as fighting the good and moral fight. But also like all trolls he remains largely unaware of his own true motivations. If he is at all aware of his true motivations he represses this knowledge so that he can maintain the feeling that his cause is righteous. How do I know all this about his psychology? I know this because I was once in his shoes. I recognize the pattern of behavior an the mindset. I even wrote a book about it.

I admit freely that I enjoy tussling with him on occasion and it always follows a similar pattern. I will publish a blog post that draws his attention. Sometime I specifically write on subjects because I know it will get a reaction from him and other times he simply responds to something I have written without this intent. We then argue back and forth each telling the other person that they are wrong. Sometimes it starts out on the issues but it always devolves into ad hominem attacks. Eventually the tussle becomes tiresome and I tell him I have had enough. He then attempts to post a response which I delete. He usually gives up after that.

Now the fact that I do derive enjoyment out of the interaction in a sense makes me a troll as well. Because the true motivation of a troll is to derive pleasure from getting a reaction out of another person. This is a very ego oriented drive. It makes the self feel good by putting itself hierarchically above another person. The ego is always comparing itself in this way. Some trolls are aware of this dynamic and are therefore able to exercise a degree of control over their behavior. Other trolls do not have this awareness and are unable to control their behavior or perhaps one could say that their behavior controls them. I suspect the gentleman who has been trolling my blog falls into the latter category.

In a sense our interactions have turned trolling into an art form or sport from my perspective. I am using his trolling against him to in effect perform what I would like to label a “reverse troll” or “troll jujitsu.” This of course is my way of making myself feel better about my role in this interaction. I am telling myself that it is all just a bit of fun. But in reality, my intuition tells me there is a dark side to all this that leaves us both muddy. So maybe I am not as aware of my true motivations as I think I am. My growth in this area is a work in progress I suppose.

For example, lately I took a little pride in the fact that this gentleman took it on the chin in the comment section of another blog he trolls. I need to provide some background on this. I first caught this gentleman’s eye more than a year ago when I posted a comment to a post on the blog “The Othosphere.” He took offense with my point of view and after that he began to obsessively post comments on my blog and has been doing so with remarkable consistency ever since. He originally accused me of trolling The Orthosphere. At the time I assumed he was a regular and respected contributor to that community. Over time it became clear, however, that at best the members of that blog’s community tolerated his presence. Typically they ignore his comments by not responding to them at all. At worst they express contempt for him. But I think in his mind I am the interloper to that community which he feels he is a part. Anyway, recently I commented in a post as an attempt to goad him. He naturally snapped at the bait but the beautiful part was that the author of the post entered the conversation making all the arguments against him that I typically make (e.g., his writing is unclear and confusing, he redefines words and expects everyone to use his definitions etc.). To my troll persona this was a spectacular turn of events. Not only was he made to look foolish on his supposed home turf but someone else did the heavy lifting for me. All I had to do was stoke the flame a bit here and there when it started to go out. This was black belt level troll jujitsu.

Of course I am not proud of this behavior. It is dark. It is ego driven. I can make excuses that he was the one who started it, or his belief system is ridiculous and bigoted, or I am not the only one who sees him for the buffoon that he is. But in truth these are all excuses covering up my true intentions. That truth is that there is a part of me that enjoys this and to the extent that I do enjoy it I remain unconsciously controlled by it. This is not a question of morality. From that perspective we are both wrong. But morality is largely an ego oriented enterprise. Morality says I am right and they are wrong and whoever is wrong should feel ashamed. Addressing trolling from the moral perspective will never heal the wound because the wound is a wounded ego. It is truly nothing more and nothing less. Moralizing this problem would only serve to reinforce the ego’s sense of self. The only way to heal a wounded ego is simply (but not easily) by becoming aware. Obviously I am not quite there yet but I am working towards that goal.

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