Many people advocate the idea that ideas can change our reality; that implanting better, positive, notions about ourselves, about life, better attitudes, will cause a shift in our mindset and a change for the better in our behavior and, consequently, in our lives.
Now, why would I oppose this? I’m the one always talking about social programming, about the way memes – ideas – modify our behavior.
But I’ve also been saying that they do not act they way we think they act. That memes – ideas, and, in their narrower definition, false ideas – have an effect different from the one they pretend to be having. That, by telling us lies, they manipulate our mind into the state it needs to be in, for whatever practical reasons.
In the case of this notion of positive thinking, my problem with it is that it ignores our need to express our negative thoughts and feelings. It operates on the belief that our negative thoughts have no real source, that they, themselves, are mere memes that need to be replaced with better ones.
Well, they are memes, in the sense that all of our ideas and notions are. And yet, they are different. Our negative emotions stem from remembered trauma that needs to be expressed. From negative experiences that create a charge, in our mind, that can only be discharged, relieved, by expressing the original distress, sharing it with an empathetic listener – or witness. Our negative feelings need to be expressed. Crying is an important biological function, it removes tension – and this trapped negativity – from our system. This is something we have managed to unlearn, as a culture, and we have replaced it with this pretense of positivity that everybody is expected to embrace. Be positive, be positive. Serenity now! cried George’s dad in that episode from that silly show, Seinfeld.
But it’s serenity now – insanity later, as Kramer had concluded at the end of that episode. And this is why I have a problem with memetic programming being abused in this way, with trying to repress our negative feelings with positive ideas.
In the process of socialization, cultural memes are instilled in our minds using pain. This is the source of the saying – spare the rod, spoil the child. It means that if you do not educate your child so that they fit into the society they are going to be part of, sharing all its misguided notions about human nature and all its intolerant ideas regarding people who do things differently, then you will be hurting their interests in the long run.
Education involves pain. We traumatize our children to abandon natural behaviors that are culturally unacceptable – we humiliate them if they walk around naked. We shame boys, in many cultures, when they cry, teaching them the very harmful habit of avoiding the expression of pain, of not admitting that they even feel it. To mention just a couple of examples.
I’m not sure what can be done about it…. well, I spend at least an hour or two, every day, preaching from my soapbox, so who knows…. it’s no small task to go against cultural trends that are guided by the laws of nature and of social evolution, and, if possible at all, I think it can only make a difference in the lives of some individuals, but not all of us, not the masses, not as a civilization.
As a civilization we are doomed to keep going downstream, towards the unavoidable.