Even the most aware of us fall prey to the unconscious placement and/or demonstration of counterproductive opinion. Contemplation is the way to catch yourself. Consider our earlier example of prostitution. Is prostitution right, wrong, just, cruel, immoral or natural? Why do you have that opinion and why do you have any opinion? Does it feel to you that your position is a fair and/or appropriate way to be thinking? Does it make sense, do you have specific experiences, or other reasons to feel the way you do? Are you only having an emotional reaction? What associations are connected to your thoughts about prostitution? Perhaps you have no opinion on prostitution. If you look at it as merely a fact, it simply is. If you have no relationship to it you have no decision to make. Yet person after person will decide that they do have an opinion without the need for one. Most often this unnecessary paradigm comes from our rendition of morality. Some people, lacking in their understanding, vehemently argue points for which they have absolutely no reason to believe. Perhaps ignorance isn’t bliss. We'll examine this tendency soon enough.
Of course, it’s easy to say that understanding is empowerment. Understanding even the simplest subject to it’s fullest extent is not easily achieved. The enlightenment you seek will hide very well and the enlightenment you need will present itself whether or not you want it to. How many of us have said something stupid to someone we love for no good reason? We hit our thumb with the hammer and it’s our wife’s fault for wanting the picture hung? The paradigm you need to work on will rear its ugly head and you will react. It’s too late to address it now, just remember to contemplate it later and say, “I’m sorry” to your wife.
Tibetan monks, monks of all sorts spend their lives dedicated to seek out the deep, true, pure understanding that is appropriate for their efforts. An alcoholic may have to hurt himself or the ones he loves before he comes to realize it’s the booze that makes him abusive and/or destructive. It doesn’t matter how understanding is achieved despite how honourable you consider one methodology over another. It would be mere speculation for you to assign importance to someone else’s understanding. A monk may die an old man without being satisfied by his lifelong achievements. An alcoholic may, in one moment of clarity, change his entire life, even deciding to attempt to correct the mistakes in his past, changing the lives of others. So it seems that it is natural for us to be presented with solutions. We get in the way of ourselves and others by expressing opinion. The monk who cannot achieve enlightenment is the monk who doesn’t believe it’s possible for him to. The alcoholic who cannot control his drinking, doesn’t want to. Short of a lifetime of meditation or life altering emotional instances how can we eke out any palpable self control? How can we recognize the need for change when in the midst of the paradigm that is lacking? How can we have 20/20 hindsight, in the present? As silly as that sounds I think it is the attainable goal of the new modern enlightenment. Hindsight always seems to make so much sense that we wonder, looking back, how we missed the revelation while we were in the thick of it.
To be philosophically contemplative is to have a present sight, an Awareness with a capital A. The "Authentic Self" used like a separate entity, you looking at yourself. Maximum awareness, purposeful contemplation, flexible paradigms while the calling cards of existentialism are not limited to that somewhat misunderstood disposition. Existentialism emphasizes the individual as a free and responsible agent as existence itself is all that is “known.” A philosophy that I think sounds good on paper, and to a certain degree do subscribe to but is not without it’s pitfalls. Unfortunately over the course of the years since the French revolution, the common opinion of existentialism has gone from “seeing things as they are rather than as they should be,” to pure nihilism. Nihilism or “nothingism” expounds that existence is meaningless, substance-less, senseless and useless. This misconception was drawn out of the interpretation of Existentialists as Athiests, which many of the first were. Nevertheless, one can be a responsible Existentialist with or without believing in God. A Nihilist, by definition, must be godless. An Existentialist simply believes, “There are things that are and I'm going to do my best work in this perceivable reality.” A Nihilist believes there are only the things that are and there are no possibilities beyond that. These two groups are basically looking at the same phenomenon, “life” as the amount of existence we are known to have. Existentialism shrugs off the unanswerable questions and only speaks to what we can actually know. (We will later discuss what it means to know something.) Nihilism presumes that what we can actually know is all there is, and as we wish to achieve the ultimate open mind, we shouldn't entertain such restrictions too seriously.
The distinctions between existentialism and nihilism, while useful for understanding how faith is irrelevant to responsibility, can also help explain the difference between faith and religion. Religion is the organization and control of faith. The Existentialist has no use for much of what religion enforces. For if you are a free and responsible agent you can think as you see fit. Religion, while it may be adopted or ignored by the Existentialist, insists upon it's own unique dogma. Oddly, this same insistence is used by the Nihilist, paradoxically to denounce any particular adherence to faith.
Also, and we will discuss this further, the people who desire control over you don’t want you to be a free and responsible agent. They may even argue that it’s impossible to be both simultaneously. If you are free, it is understood that you are accountable, but to whom and by what standard? You can have faith, as you are a free agent but how, if you don’t attach yourself to some sort of standard of measurement, (morality,) will you know if you’re being responsible? If you’re being held responsible how are you free? It’s easy to see where the paradox lies but it gets even worse. Existentialism is too convenient. You have the beauty of freedom and the safety of responsibility (provided it’s measure is somehow qualified and quantified.) However, it’s a sort of a lazy temperament, literally hopeless. You just let everything slide by, not that you’re incapable of highs or lows, but that you are accepting of them regardless of merit. I say, keep the calm, analytical nature of the spirit of existentialism and dismiss the lack of imagination expressed as being a responsible agent of change. Inspiration comes from without. There are too many unknowns for classic existentialism to be useful without due diligence. We still need to separate existentialism from humanism further. Those unknowns, the ideas we are unable to yet explain, keep getting in the way. Humanists claim total responsibility. They say, ‘There is an explanation for everything. Anything that is beyond our explanation is either discoverable or it doesn’t exist.’ Our new Existentialism needs to loosen philosophy to the acceptance of the existence and influence of the unknowable. It needs to also develop a direction, a goal conducive to that of our species. Namely, the expected continuation of said species. Most of us don't even contemplate existence. It is not enough to just think about being, we should be thinking about being well. Furthermore, as we begin to understand these concepts better, we’ll see that true freedom is the default position, it can’t be given or taken. We are all born free in terms of what we can think. True responsibility is to accept that freedom and use it to your utmost, despite the absurd influence of the world.
‘Memory’, ‘experience’, and trust in ‘lessons learned’ are the building blocks of paradigms but language is the most powerful trap that controls them. We think in terms for ideas. They don’t have to be words. Symbols and signs for instance, are equally powerful. They can be used to induce memory, opinion, even experience but they must be achievable expressions. We understand complicated concepts but only if we can express them. If we can’t express them, we can’t understand them. Language is necessary at this point in our evolution. Perhaps someday all communication will transcend language the way emotions like love and fear can. Until then we must use language to both express and comprehend.
Questions are the vehicle that will drive you to understanding any definition of terms further. Sometimes the questions will impose themselves as banalities, “White or brown bread?” or as necessities, “How am I going to survive on this deserted island?” Sometimes you will desire answers and seek them out willfully, “Who am I going to vote for?” or unexpectedly, “Who the hell is in bed with my wife?” The point is that if you’re asking the question it is because you want to make a decision, form an opinion, set or change a paradigm. It doesn’t matter if you’re asking the question of yourself or someone else, be warned that you might get answers you don’t like. The knowledge you can glean from self-examinations can also be less than fruitful. It could even be that you are ill-prepared to deal with the things that you come to learn. This is no reason to fear change. In fact, as we’ll discuss later, you should seek it. Exercise your ability to change your mind because it’s healthy. Examine your paradigms because it’s beneficial to know yourself or at least, the self. Be aware of the mind-set of others as well, for as assuredly as there are people who seek change there are those who despise it, fear it and may well destroy its chances of success. Quentin Tarantino has a great line in the film “Four Rooms,” his character claims his wise, old grand-pappy used to say it, “The more apt you are to make declarative statements, the more likely you are to look foolish in retrospect.” Or as I sometimes remind my sons, “If you don’t answer anything you can’t be wrong.” Sometimes you have to choose your moments.
Paradigm resistance is as rampant as paradigm ignorance. Somewhere between paradigm resistance and utilization is paradigm tolerance. This is when you know the paradigm is unhealthy, (unproductive, illogical, destructive, etc.) yet you do nothing to correct it, either in yourself or others. For instance, you have probably known someone that you couldn’t really agree with because of his paradigms, yet you considered him as a friend because you couldn’t blame him and he wasn’t doing anyone specific harm. He could be almost completely incapable of an original thought but he’d give you the shirt off his back. So he is a “decent,” “normal” guy, but the type of person who sleepwalks through life. A worker bee. A drone. He parrots out opinion and seeks it out in others. He begins sentences with phrases like “What do you think of...” and ends them with, “Am I right?” He probably slaps you too hard on the back if you’re a man and makes sure you know he’s censoring himself if you’re a lady. Maybe you work with him and his name is Dennis. Maybe you think the patience you demonstrate in not administering daily admonishing alone warrants entry into Heaven, possibly sainthood. (You may be right! You’re the one that knows him.) You may even catch yourself thinking, “if it wasn’t for the fact that we have to work together I wouldn't even speak to you.” Yet you tolerate his opinion because the options available are far too daunting to deem effective. Furthermore, if someone was to ask you for a personal reference of Dennis, your response would be glowing. (You lazy cow!) Again you reiterate to yourself, “Dennis is not a bad guy, he's just got paradigm problems.”
Let’s take a look at our good buddy Dennis, keeping in mind that language exploration, paradigm contemplation and “why” are our most valuable tools to understand him. Let’s listen to what he is saying without deciding if it’s true, instead let’s contemplate his paradigms based on the subject. Let's take a look at the internal arguments he uses to make his ideas make sense to him. While we do this, let's not forget, Dennis is our friend, Brother, Uncle, whatever he is in our life, he is part of it. We aren't concerned with whether or not Dennis' ideas are right or wrong, or even what his ideas are. We will be attempting to decifer if the reasons for which he argues his points are valid.
An argument, despite it's modern interpretation, is not a quarrel. In Philosophy an argument is simply one or more premises that lead you o a conclusion. For instance, I think, therefore I am.” One premise, one conclusion. (We can't really deny or confirm this argument, despite it seeming to make sense, this is the point.) The number of premises leading to an argument makes it more difficult to consider, but the rules remain essentially the same; If, at any premise, you find a proposition that does not follow or contribute to the conclusion, then you will be well served to find the entire argument invalid. Here again, I must reiterate, we aren't determining the truth of any conclusion. There are simply certain types of arguments that should be considered automatically, logically invalid and these arguments are known as “Fallacies.” There are many fallacies and most of them are easily recognized in common sense language. We will examine some of these arguments in Dennis.
Dennis holds the door for ladies, obviously ogling. After she is gone, (and hopefully out of ear shot) he makes a suggestive comment that requires your response. (It is far too rude to be printed.) If you react in a negative fashion he might say, “I’m only kidding.” If you don’t laugh, he thinks it has to be because you are in a bad mood. If you disagree that you are in a bad mood, it’s because you’re wrong. “Everybody has bad days,” he says. Now Dennis is a Philosopher! (Phew, an easy out...) By drawing an incorrect conclusion from your reaction, Dennis has illustrated the logical argument named the “Subjective Fallacy,” probably the most common false argumet. Just because you believe something to be true doesn't necessarily make it so.
Dennis feels there is nothing wrong with his appreciation of women because he is a man. He is entitled to his superiority. It is God given. How anyone could argue any different is a sure sign of one of three things in Dennis’ faultless position: 1.) You must be a feminist and are probably a gay hippy. 2.) You must be Godless and are probably evil. 3.) You must be ignorant because anyone with half a brain can just tell that men are superior to women. It’s Nature! In short, Dennis cannot accept other points of view. He can hear them, sometimes he can even comprehend them, but he is not going to change his mind just because of the opinion of someone else. He has, after all, got it all figured out.
One day while leaving work you notice Dennis has a bumper sticker that reads, “Support our troops.” Like an idiot you ask him why we should bother. He says, “Well, 'cause that’s what you do! What? You don’t support the troops?” (Your answer is irrelevant.) Dennis doesn't care to have reasons for thinking the way he does. Recognizing this shortcoming as the stubborn blindness of the programmed is our reward. We don't care even if it is right or wrong to support the troops, for any reason. We only care to keep an open mind, Dennis does not. You ask Dennis what he thinks of the war on terror and he recites the mantra of the middle ground, “Saddam had to be taken out. War is hell but you gotta do what you gotta do. I’m willing to give up some freedoms for security. We’ve all got to do our part. Those guys are crazy... I saw on Fox news...” In addition to being narrow minded subjectivism this argument is an appeal to authority and, in Dennis' case, an appeal to majority.
He supports the troops because not supporting the troops is unthinkable treason! He is unable to even entertain the idea of there being some other paradigm. Without making any sort of decision on the value of supporting the troops, it is possible to dismiss any of Dennis' possible arguments based on the following statement: Dennis doesn't support the government. One cannot support the troops if one does not support the government as the government is what directs the military. The Army doesn't just decide to invade some particular country, they are told to by the government. If you don't support the decision, you don''t support the government or the troops. There is little room for the argument that one can “support the troops, but not support the war.” If this is the case, you are not supporting the troops, you are supporting the trooper and these are not the same things. It is doubtful that Dennis, even if he would entertain this concept, could truly understand it. One has to learn how to think before one starts thinking.
Dennis goes to church fairly regularly. You wouldn't know that he was religious by any aspect of his behaviour. You happen to know this fact because you've known Dennis so long. Because you both live in the same small town, you’ve also seen him drunk on a Friday afternoon, pick up a hooker in a mini-van with a baby seat in the back and drive away. (No, I’m not obsessed with prostitutes, they are just a very common, ancient paradigm that people are affected by and have opinions of.)
All of Dennis’ paradigms are set deep and have hardened into inflexible concrete into which he has carved everything he believes for all to see. He doesn’t know that paradigms exist, he thinks that life is the way it is, because it is. (He’s right, as it is up to him to experience it.) He believes there is nothing wrong with him, it’s the rest of the world that causes any problems he might have.
Everyone has “Dennis-like” traits. Even the most brilliant, open-minded, authentic, contemplative person ever is still going to have moments of bias, misinterpretation, stubbornness or selfishness. We cannot be completely unlike Dennis any more than we can be perfect. We can only strive to be these things, that is to say, if we want to. Dennis, it seems, is happy in his little world. This happiness is quite typical and very real to the person living this way. “Living this way,” is the key phrase of this concept, for this is a way of life, it is not life itself. For instance, if we were to ask Dennis, “Who is Dennis?” it is very likely that he would answer with a listing of what he does. This is a path to understanding the non-thinker. Since the first Enlightenment, humans have been defining who they are by what they do. In doing these things the non-thinker finds happiness, dispersed by unhappiness in the atypical roller coaster ride of modern life. Most people, particularly those of us fortunate to be living in the so-called “first world,” are bodies, busied. If you could sit them down, shut them up and make them think, not about what they do, but who they are, they would find nothing. This realization is the inception of existentialism, “there is only me, there are no answers, I am empty inside.” While this may be a cause for misery, it is from this place that all great things begin. Once one has accepted the able-minded responsibility, one can grow, bloom and find true happiness. After all, it is this emptiness that is the real you, instead of all the notions you have filled yourself up with. This real you is what we should be working on.
How is it that you and Dennis have such different positions on so many topics? Let’s start with Women. Let’s presume that you have a healthy relationship with the opposite sex by the following standard: you are fair. In the past, sometimes the opposite sex may have hurt you but you understand that both sexes can hurt equally so it doesn’t influence your opinion of either. You’ve cared for your oppositionally sexed parent, siblings, lovers, children, friends and they’ve cared for you. You don’t see women as subservient, weaker-than, less-than. No one has ever taught you anything contrary to this position, and if they did, you didn’t listen. Unfortunately, Dennis did listen or otherwise develop this opinions. Likely Dennis has had, at some point in his life, a powerful relationship with someone, something(s) or some situation(s) that established that point of view. It doesn’t mean that his Mother abused him, although we can’t rule that out. It could mean that his Father treated his Mother that way and she accepted it. There are limitless possibilities. Dennis' fallacy here is circular and a non sequitur. Women are, in fact, not lesser than because they have been created lesser than. The logic of this thinking does not follow from one premise to any conclusion.
We’re not here to psychoanalyze Dennis. I, for one, am not qualified. We’re trying to understand Dennis with the tools we have. The point to be taken here is that Dennis’ paradigm inflexibility could be dangerous and counterproductive. We’ve noticed that he has what we consider “issues” and we are attempting to assess them. We’re not doing it for him, we’re doing it for ourselves. His paradigm ignorance is sad and his resistance to change, while typical, is no less pathetic. Thankfully, our knowledge of the power of paradigms can help us understand, hopefully tolerate and possibly even curb his buffoonery.
Through knowing him we can tell Dennis is also a reluctant redneck. As he seems unable to form his own opinions, all of his paradigms are established by outside sources. Therefore the reluctance isn’t real, it’s because he knows that this paradigm is frowned upon and he wants to be liked. He tries to disguise it with back-peddling over his real thoughts, uttered before his weak filter could stop his mouth. So when Dennis makes, for instance, a racist comment he immediately follows it by saying something like, “I'm not racist though, I've just been burned before.” He’ll also tell you one thing and then act out the exact opposite. Actions speak louder than words and as my wise old Mother taught me, “Believe what people show you, not what they tell you.”
Dennis is also a Nationalist, Patriot, Husband, Father, Mason, Bowler, whatever, it doesn’t matter. Therein lies the point, it’s not the who or the what, it’s the why. You can know everything you can observe about a person, you can work with them eight hours a day for five years and strain your eyes from rolling them. You can continue to work with this person, continue to dislike their ideas and possibly develop a negative reaction. You can begin to suffer because of this bonehead at the office but only if you let it happen. A person who doesn’t know about paradigms will always feel that life is something that happens to them, rather than something they make happen. As your awareness grows you understand more and more there are reasons for everything, even why Dennis is such a pain in the ass. It doesn’t mean you have to like him. It doesn’t mean you can or even should try to help him. It means you can find his point of view. You can dig into his “why’s” and have an understanding that could prove useful. You can pick apart his arguments and see if they make sense. You can even be apathetic to his paradigms and use that knowledge to humiliate or annihilate him. How you choose to use your awareness is up to you.
For the sake of our discourse, let’s assume you decide you’re going to steer conversations with Dennis into the areas where these “Why’s” can be discovered. Let’s pretend that you’re motivated not to help him but to maintain your own sanity. You’ve already sussed out what it is about Dennis that drives you crazy now you need to know why it is that he holds those opinions. Over the next days or weeks you try to ask innocent sounding questions that poke around in Dennis’ paradigms of racism, sexism, patriotism, ism-ism and uncover the following: Dennis’ Father was a soldier who was gone a lot and then one day was killed in the line of duty by an Arabic suicide bomber. His Mother was always a good care-giver and stuck by her husband even though when he got drunk he would brag to Dennis and his brothers about having a woman in every port. If his Mother acted hurt, his Father would laugh saying, “You know I’ll always come home to you, Hon!” After his Dad died his Mom worked two jobs to finish raising the kids and Dennis, as the oldest went to work too.
How do you feel about Dennis now? I’m betting that his opinions and actions make some sense, or at least it’s easier for you to know where he’s coming from. Don’t get sucked in, don’t start feeling sorry for Dennis, he doesn’t want any help, remember? There’s nothing wrong with him. Just because you’re empathetic doesn’t make you a sucker. Besides, he has no reason to believe you and you just want to make your life with Dennis’ paradigms easier. You have to follow the logic of each paradigm to it’s very core or it’s of no use, and let’s face it, Dennis’ paradigms are neither logical nor original.
So why is it that we can’t bring ourselves to help Dennis? We’ve established he is unwilling to examine himself so the effect of “beating our head against a brick wall” is certainly a likely deterrent. Beside human laziness we might also feel we are not qualified to help. As I said earlier we are not here to psychoanalyze Dennis. I use the story of Dennis to illustrate that you can use you’re knowledge of paradigms to help you deal with common situations. Dennis, while annoying, is a relatively low threat, so we needn’t interfere for the sake of our conscience or anyone’s well-being. His failure to see the fallacies in his arguments are not likely to be anything more than an annoyance, but what if Dennis was your Nation's President? More realistically, if he was an addict, abusive or otherwise more markedly counterproductive then it might be right or logical to intervene. As it is now, due to our knowledge of Dennis’ paradigms and his ignorance of them, we now may know more about why Dennis is the way he is than he does. We can use this knowledge to begin arguing consciously and introducing him to some new paradigms. Maybe we’ll be successful, probably not. Dennis is fifty years old and set in his ways. If someone wants to learn about the reality of the power of paradigms, then they should be able to and you’d gladly help. So let Dennis have it with both barrels if it’s going to make the difference. If he’s obtuse, be arrogant! There’s still no guarantee it’s going to work but successful interventions happen all the time. You can’t help those who won’t help themselves and you even tried, to be sure. Furthermore, and of the most importance, is that you are now empowered to deal with Dennis, despite wanting to or needing to.
As I stated, we all have inside us at least a part of what we dislike about Dennis. (Some more than others.) Even if you think you are most decidedly not Dennis-like there are things we can learn from the lesson. The fault of a policy of non-confrontation is the rule of “fire together, wire together.” This is the biological part of our associations expressed in a simple idea: The more one thinks the same idea, the more it becomes ingrained and unavoidable. If Dennis keeps thinking within the confines of his dusty old paradigms he will get forever bogged down in them. (He probably is already, he’s so comfy.) You run the risk of doing the same if you don’t confront the problematic paradigms you have. For instance: Why didn’t you use the five years you’ve been working with Dennis to perfect your patience? The difference is that you gave Dennis the opportunity to learn some information that could make a noticeable difference in his life and he rejected it. He’s not going to accept any of this psychobabble, that’s his prerogative and you can blame him no more for that than you can blame a blind man for not being able to see. You, on the other hand, are awake and aware. If you are too squeamish or are just otherwise unable to confront your own paradigms you have no one to blame but yourself. Let’s now begin looking at how minds change and what should change about them.
When I learned that my understanding of ancient Egyptian monuments could be, at the least, partially incorrect I went through a variety of emotive thoughts. (Never forget, we are now ultimately open minded, because for us the facts are still in dispute we remain the resigned undecided.) At first I was in awe. Wow, I thought, that changes everything! (At the time, in my naivete, I just believed it.) I didn’t realize it but I had shifted several paradigms at once. Looking back on it now, it seems to me that I could physically feel the change in my mind, perhaps a slight dizziness. The first paradigm shift that I could discern was the obvious one, “there were civilized people on this planet way before I previously knew.” As I stated, at the time, I just accepted these theories of ten thousand B.C. to be true. (By the way, it’s likely that the theories are true. If ever I must decide, without knowing, I will favour agreeing with them.) Obviously, this idea of “man” being “civilized” earlier sent a fresh jolt to a lot of my paradigms. Surely, it must have touched my ideas about religion, archeology, pre-history, etc.
Then there was the second shift, “If they were wrong about the ages of these monuments, what else are they wrong about?” Which of course enters into my trust paradigms and I begin to wonder about my teachers and other groups that, up until that moment, had been authorities. Then a third shift, “That makes it even less likely for the resources or technology to exist for the construction of these monuments? Or does it?” This one is more the conceptualization of Paradigm without knowing what it was called because it put the onus on me to doubt myself. I had discovered that “facts” could be accepted as such for years by, basically, everyone and then be smashed in one hour long t.v. show. I now knew that I could be duped right along with everyone else. So, how can I say that anything is a fact, anything is known, anything is possible?
Then the final, and most fun shift for a young man, “These guys are just dorks from four different disciplines that looked at something with “new eyes,” drew some conclusions, went hunting for questions that led to those conclusions, and found them. They could have been anybody. They could have been me. It did dawn on me at the time that is was the alternative perception of these men that made the difference. The people that would normally be looking at these sort of questions were finished looking at them a long time ago. Thus, having blinders on is proof that subjects in question should be answered with interdisciplinary considerations. I hadn’t yet heard of “thinking outside the box” but here it had been demonstrated and experienced. It’s important to both consider and employ alternative perception as it forces paradigm shift.
Human history is full of sufferances due to ignoring the worth of keeping an open mind. Alternative perceptions sometimes are scary or embarrassing, depending on how far outside your paradigms you have to stretch and if you are the one asking someone to do the stretching, it can be equally trying. But try you must. Or better yet, as Yoda tells Luke in “the Empire Strikes Back,” “Do not try. Do! Or do not do. There is no try.”
I’m not asking you to convince people that aliens built the pyramids, I’m suggesting that there are people on this planet that would never listen to a word you said if you tried to and that’s illogical. Did IBM know there was going to be a computer revolution and home computers would become as common as toasters? Yes. They knew there a tiny movement afoot that claimed it was coming. Did they believe it was a threat or even possible? No. Apple did, in fact, they set out to make it happen and succeeded.10 (The beauty of this example is that nobody needed a home computer, Apple created the need by making it useful.) Seiko Japan did the same thing by buying the quartz watch movement that the Swiss didn’t see the value of. (Look at your watch, does it say “quartz?”) Bill Gates bought the DOS operating software that makes “Windows” possible for the price of a decent used car, from a man who couldn’t envision its utility. The list goes on and on but those are instances that had a positive outcome for the people that saw the value of the paradigm shift. The people who couldn’t see the value in these new ideas, yet had the time to think about the paradigm, suffer from Contemplative Paradigm Paralysis, and lost out. (Swiss watch companies have since embraced the quartz movement, but Japan still dominates the timepiece industry. Bill Gates is still in the top ten richest men in the world, almost nobody has heard of the man who invented the DOS operating system.) But what of the dangers of ignoring “crazy new ideas” in everyday life. Not all of us are meant to be on the cusp of innovation. Let’s examine some more mundane degrees of paradigm paralysis.
In Joel Barker’s “The New Business of Paradigms” he relays the following story. One beautiful sunny afternoon, a young man is out for a leisurely drive in his beloved sports car. He is enjoying himself as he speeds along a curvy country road. Suddenly, at the last second, he sees another car coming at him in his lane. He swerves slightly as does the woman who is in his lane. They avoid each other without incident but as the cars pass each other, the woman yells out the window at him, “Pig!” In that instant the young man becomes angry. This woman was in his lane, endangering both of their lives yet she has the audacity to call him a Pig! He has enough time to come up with “Cow!” which he shouts at her before she is out of earshot. He feels a little better because he was able to zing her back then runs directly into the pig that is on the road. He kills the pig, ruins his car and hopefully learns the lesson of his Autonomic Paradigm Paralysis. (Although probably not, it is much more likely that he understands that it was a warning, yet thinks something to the effect of, “How the hell was I supposed to know it was a warning?”) This is the most rampant type of paradigm paralysis. Whereas the aforementioned “contemplative paradigm paralysis” does not present itself as readily or as frequently. They are both equally dangerous, the difference being that you are much more able and likely to do something about Contemplative Paradigm Paralysis because you have the time to. If you have the ability to think about a new paradigm yet still reject it, you have made that decision and have no one to blame for it but yourself. If, however, you have to make an instant decision there is no contemplation and you are less in control. You are reacting from a place that you may or may not have established.
The young man driving made a conclusion that led to an unfortunate event. He misunderstood the intent of the woman coming the other way, most likely out of the common, trance-like paradigm we often experience with repeated activity. In other words, he was on auto-pilot and was used to drivers reacting negatively rather than positively. The lack of assessment and the creation of his anger stem from the same place, habit, (fire together, wire together.) If the young man had time to examine the situation, perhaps he would have realized that it doesn’t really make sense for the woman to be in his lane, yet angry at him. It is a much more likely situation that the scenario that did play out, would. Because the young man has had plenty of experience with being and observing frustrated, angry drivers, his reaction emanates from this ‘driving’ paradigm.
All reactions (that are not ‘fight or flight’ autonomic) stem from Paradigm. You cannot change your reactions without changing your paradigms. For example, a different young man, may have seen the woman coming toward him and respond with curiosity rather than anger, “Why is she in my lane?” This thought implies there is a reason for the fact, it might even be something he wants to know. Perhaps this young man would apply the brakes and even upon hearing the word, “Pig!” consider it a warning that there is a pig on the road. “That certainly would explain why she was in my lane.” This young man’s car would be fine and the pig would live another day. I’d also be willing to bet that this young man would be a lot happier, healthier and more productive in life than the first young man. I’d further wager that the first, typically reactionary young man outnumbers the other, one hundred to one. Changing this ratio is one of the goals of the philosophy presented in this book.
So, what is it we have learned so far? Paradigms are sets of rules that you use to think. Each paradigm is a network of associations on any given topic with which you have some kind of understanding. Paradigms can be experientially created or be ‘taught’ socially by outside sources. They are built of experience, memory and opinion but can most easily be manipulated with language. The examination and evaluation of paradigm is the most powerful tool for understanding and the most commonly used question to do so is “Why?” A paradigm shift occurs when you change your way of thinking about any given topic. This occurs most often when you either don’t have an answer to the “Why?” or when your answer is deemed more illogical than the new paradigm. The ‘why’s’ must be followed to the core of their existence. Remember we are not psychologists or cosmologists! We can no less decide the worth of someone’s mental state than we can truly appreciate the cause of creation. We are not here to answer any impossible questions. We can just accept the unknowns as unknowable at present. We are here to understand ourselves. To understand the “why” of you and I, the “why” of Dennis, the why of the young man driving on the country road, etc.
We have learned that paradigm can be ignored, rejected, absorbed, accepted, tarnished either with or without knowing it’s happening (Autonomic vs. Contemplative.) We can keep our paradigms flexible, even undecided or we can nail them down and stick to it, again with or without awareness. Assignee’s Prerogative, (which may hereby referred to as A.P.) is the understanding and use of paradigm contemplation. We can accept that there are going to be times when we are reactionary but the number and severity of these reactions can be reduced with practice. There are also going to be instances where you can find no answer to the question, “What is the worth of this paradigm?” It’s an acceptance of logic as a personal decision of what it might mean, per paradigm. If that means that we have to make a leap of faith to be comfortable, so be it. I think we should be allowed that privilege as there are many deep running unknowns and we’ve been so wrong, so often before. After all, we have only our perceptions and our paradigms to go on, and there seems to be little to no actual logic being demonstrated by our commitment to them.
There are also paradigms that are going to be harder to shake regardless of our desire to. For example, to this day I harbour a distaste for ‘loud’ people. I am aware of the causation, some of the greatest pains I have felt in my life have been associated with ‘loud’ personalities. Is it logical? Of course not! I’m sure there’s some really groovy loud people out there. But I’m aware of my bias and I can make a concentrated effort to be equally open to loud people. I can realize that these loud people who have hurt me have reasons for being the way they are. It doesn’t make it right or wrong, but understanding paradigms means I pretty much have to forgive them. They’re just like everybody else, they live the life they’ve created. They may or may not be aware of that fact. I am ultimately only responsible for myself.
Paradigm Pliancy, Utilization with a lack of Assignation except when necessary is good, healthy, valid. Paradigm Paralysis, Ignorance and unquestioning Assignation is dangerous, illogical, counterproductive. It is a far better thing to be able to recognize, assimilate and unbiasedly decide for yourself on any given subject than it is to miss, ignore or decide from a place of ignorance, possibly someone else’s. Don’t fear alternative perception, examine it. Notice that I didn’t say Paradigm Rejection or Resistance were either good or bad. That is because it is often just as useful you reject or resist new paradigms contemplatively as you accept them. Take the case of zeppelin travel as an example of a paradigm that proved better to reject, or the medieval idea that bleeding could expunge illness.
Nevertheless, new paradigms will always come from the fringe and so to look out to that fringe is to see the future. It takes only a little imagination to see it clearly and if you use a lot of imagination it’s possible to create it. Life in the fringe is a place where you have nothing to lose, where brave meets crazy and crazy meets ingenious. It’s the only place to be if you want to control yourself and your future.
10Film: “The Pirates of Silicone Valley.”