It’s Almost ALL “Only in Your Mind”   Leave a comment


I’ve been giving more and more importance to the reality of illusions the more I’ve studied economics, political science, history, and medicine. That is, what people think is happening, or what they think should be happening is often more important in shaping reality than what actually happened.

To clarify, I’m not saying that there is no truth or that the truth is unimportant. I don’t believe either of those things at all. But I am more and more impressed by the importance of people’s perceptions of reality in shaping what happens next.

Take the Spanish Civil War of the 1930’s as an example. Broadly Speaking, the democratically elected government (that was eventually defeated by General Franco) was certainly leftist, but Communists at the beginning of the civil war played only a small part in the government.

But that wasn’t how France, Britain, and the United States viewed the Spanish government. They saw the government as communist and in league with the Russians (as those governments tended to do with any lesser power that happens to be to the left) and therefore were very slow to sell or give Spain weapons.

But the Russians were not slow to give the Spanish weapons. They didn’t give nearly as many as the Germans and Italians gave to Franco, but the Russians became a primary arms supplier of the Spanish government. And, unsurprisingly, the Russians pushed for the Spanish Communists to have ever more power in return for those arms.

This dynamic repeated itself throughout the twentieth century. The pre-NATO and NATO powers perceived a leftist government to be in bed with the Russians and refused to aid that government. The Russians became the only source of aid for that government in reality, and so the leftist government would be forced to do more business with the Russians, which confirmed that the NATO powers had been right all along.

Or take the idea of legitimacy. I have come to realize that a government is legitimate because and only because people think that it’s legitimate. Hosni Mubarak wasn’t overthrown because he changed his policies and therefore his government moved from being a legitimate government to an illegitimate government. Rather, Egyptians saw what happened in Tunisia and their ideas about their own government changed. The shift wasn’t in the realities of the government, but in the way people perceived those realities.

But those examples are abstract and mostly unrelated to our day to day existence. I do think people’s lives would improve if they better understood how government actually works, but that’s not why I’m writing this post. I’m writing this post because I think everyone would be better off if we all started living in our heads a little bit more.

That is, people should pay attention to the way that they think and feel, and use that information to do things better. I got this idea because of the experience of several people I know who have chronic pain diseases. Chronic pain disease, depending on the severity, can be crippling. The pain can destroy concentration, cause depression, interrupt sleep cycles resulting in constant fatigue. In addition to all of that, the pain hurts. It hurts all the time. One person told me that the pain is so constant that sometimes they only realized they were hurting once the pain had gone away. The pain came on so slowly that they didn’t even realize they had a knot the size of a quarter until something changed and that pain went away.

Basic functionality can be an issue for some people with chronic pain disease. They can work, but can they work eight hours in an office chair? They can go to school, but sit in a school desk for an uninterrupted hour and a half? It’s a real issue.

So, when these people find something that takes some of the pain away, they don’t care how it works. I’ve had conversations that have basically gone, “I tried this new thing. I have no idea if its helping me at all, but I’m in less pain, so I’m going to keep doing it.” It does not matter whether something helps because it works or if it helps because of the placebo effect. Relief is relief, and it is priceless to some people.

And I think there’s something to learn from that. All of our emotions, our thoughts, and our ideas live in our own head. And while some of them live ONLY in our head, we still act as if they didn’t. They matter. They’re important. They can cause or relieve pain. So we should play with them more. We should pay attention, learn from them, and use that information to make our lives better.

 

 

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Posted 06/21/2012 by reluctantliberal in Generic Post

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