Competing selves

Reading “Earth” by David Brin, a complex novel from 1990 about ecological disaster and human coping, a hard SF novel of ideas. From 1990, much of the prediction is off- the Ozone hole is a major problem- but the variety of issues considered is fascinating. Jen and Nelson discuss the cacophony of separate selves within, which co-operate and compete to make an individual. E Pluribus unum. Our conflicting emotions, such as embarrassment and pleasure in one moment, show that.

-So inside of me I’ve got… what? A barbarian and a criminal and a sex-maniac?
-And a scholar and a gentleman and a hero.

Brin’s characterisation could take second place to his essay-writing, but in this teacher-pupil interaction he escapes that.

Among my paradoxes- man or woman, supporting or subverting patriarchy, etc- I might reconsider my identification of selves. I felt I was writing with my Inner Rationalist, which analyses everything. Understanding is the royal road to Control. Yet it seems capable of feeling, especially frustration when its methods do not work, and much of my fear appears also to belong to it. My other main part is what I successively named the Vulnerable Bit, the Real Me, the Feminine Self, which seems to have final control of motivation: I wanted to transition, more than anything else in the world. I wanted to hide away. These motivations made no sense at all to the Rationalist.

For Jung (I don’t have to fact-check, this is a blog) maturing meant making the unconscious conscious, and accepting the contradictions. I had such a fragile sense of self, of me as one individual, and then I found the Vulnerable (Ha!) Bit, and changed my view of the world. I was not an individual- or I was, one body, home to many aspects of mind. At the time, I feared I was going mad- how could I not? I have always thought of February 1999 as my born-again moment, my leap into conscious spiritual growth, and have only just seen that this realisation was the heart of it.

Brin’s character Jen tells her student, “Free association… lets all the little selves within us speak out, see? No matter how thoroughly a bit or corner is outvoted by the rest, free association lets it slip in that occasional word or clue.”

(The novel is not all like that. The previous chapter is an Adventure bit, escaping the military Bad-guy through caves. In the following chapter he considers a super-weapon’s varied effects and continues a poignant analysis of a marriage break-up.)

My name is Legion: for we are many. It may behove me to meet more of my inner selves.

All things counter, original, spare, strange;	
  Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)	
    With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;	
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:	        
                  Praise him.

For complex Brin, I would recommend Existence– more up to date predictions, more character development; but if you like Existence, Earth is wonderful.
Miro, constellation- toward the rainbow

Don’t tell me the Rules

Doctor Who is not science fiction.

I like science fiction. David Brin in Existence introduces talking crystals from Space, but explains what they are, what they are for, and how their makers are motivated to create them. He hints at a billion-year history of our galaxy and the interaction of different species, and the different artificially intelligent machines they create. All of it hangs together. I have no difficulty with suspending disbelief. The book also posits possible developments of the internet by the mid-21st century, and the effects of a great increase of inequalities in wealth. He even has an action scene where the hero thwarts an imminent terrorist threat, by exerting reason on diverse clues. I read it twice. The first time it seemed turgid, unnecessarily complex and drawn out. Her emotional reactions barely figure.

When a dalek eye-stalk emerges from a human forehead, it is magic rather than technology. The music changes, the face changes, the stalk grows. I happen to like the dramatic timing, it does not just appear, but does not try to milk the horror of the change too much for my taste. Then a woman overcomes her dalek implant by force of personality, egged on by The Doctor.

This makes no rational sense at all. We learned in an earlier episode that people died when so converted, and were zombified tools. Arguably, it makes no dramatic sense: everything is horrible, and then by magic everything is OK. It makes wonderful emotional sense: the strength of a human spirit triumphs over oppression and control.

Doctor Who makes sense as myth. In The Time of the Doctor, he is able to resurrect his people simply by uttering his own name, but refuses to do so. He stands between his people, on the other side of a Crack in Time, and massed species previously seen as monsters or villains, now protecting our universe from the Time Lords. There are Goodies and Baddies here, but the former Goodies are made into baddies. Well, there are no Good or Bad people, only good or bad actions- perhaps not even that.

Generally, the Doctor arrives in a bad situation and makes it Better, but here he was unable to do so, merely to preserve the stand-off, and age to death over three hundred years. And then it all became all right: the Time Lords, who had wanted resurrection in “our Universe”, relinquished their demand and freed the Doctor, also resetting him to live another thousand years- which is OK because an episode thirty years ago said they could. The end was self-sacrifice by the tarnished ex-good guys, which delighted me.

The Message from the Subconscious

I am a good person, intelligent and reliable.
I can keep myself safe.

It is the Therefore that is the problem. I must release it, accept not knowing. It is like trying to ride a bicycle: I am reliable enough, can observe and react quickly enough to be safe enough: balancing on this reality, rather than pretending I can keep myself safe, so wobbling forward rather than propping up the bicycle and standing still.

I am not safe in my living room. My benefit has been cut already, and will be cut further.

To put it another way, how long can I use those threadbare excuses- that hurt me, and that, and that- that job, that betrayal, that woman- for sulking and skulking at home? I am not safe, but no-one ever is.

The final exercise of mega-me, in groups of six, is to be that all-you-can-be, larger version of ourselves, and plan a scene to be improvised, with that mega-me as the focus. We take it in turns, the others being supporters. Some delve into deep personal blocks or family issues- for the subconscious, triumphing in play and in reality feel the same, says Claire.

In my exercise, I want to not-plan. I will just speak, as moved in the moment. I want to use the large group as my supporters. B believes that I need subconscious nay-sayers, and the small group should echo the Inner Critic. He is a little too enthusiastic at this for my taste- he asked me “how long I had been a transsexual”, analysing not empathising. He knows a transsexual who is really tough, he told me. I had half-formed thoughts of a routine before this, mocking Thriller modes:

The Thingummy of Doom looms above us!
Can we reach the-
Escape switch-

While B enthusiastically mocks, I tell my audience that I like to be the centre of attention, and feel I have to perform, yet now I wish to be Fully Authentic and speak in the moment, and end by- sitting in the audience.

People, asked to give encouragement, speak of my dignity and poise in speaking this.


This post starts with me kicking myself and saying “Get on with it”, as I do occasionally- well, I am posting daily- and then I write of my Speaking Spontaneously, the Message to the Flourish, in which, I notice later, I stop and sit down, the other side of the audience from my group supporters/critic. That is, I stop trying. Which might contradict that “Get on with it”.

There is no source of Wisdom, only of wisdom, contingent and momentary. There is no source of Understanding, only occasional flashes. I am in a state of conflict, in equilibrium.

David Brin: The thing about such states of equilibrium is that they can seem steady, even permanent, until-
each one ends, as abruptly as it started.

Being Human big category is “being human“, generalising from myself and quoting accumulated wisdom-stuff about being human, and I am a big fan of “Being Human“, which ended its fifth and final series this week with a glorious happy ending which definitively ends it, and put a huge smile of delight on me. It was sweet, lovely and heart-warming.

I am ploughing my way through “The Prisoner”, volume 5 of In Search of Lost Time, and it is difficult. More than half of the book is one day, in which Marcel frets jealously about Albertine because she is out, and he does not know where she is or with whom, and manipulates her, and treats her monstrously, then goes out for an evening party with the Verdurins. Here is wit and insight, a real human being stripped bare with his insights and his blindnesses, and it is a struggle. He is impossible to admire, hard to like, and that matters to me. It makes reading a struggle.

I am rather a snob about fiction, and have interrupted The Prisoner for “The Year of the Flood” by Margaret Atwood (upper-middle brow), “The Left Hand of Darkness” by Ursula K LeGuin (upper-middle brow unless you are completely prejudiced against speculative fiction) and the two Uplift Trilogies by David Brin. This is barely middle-brow. It is unashamed space-opera, even though he is a sometimes serious author with serious concerns in some of his science fiction: here, at one point aliens invade and the Resistance retreat to the jungles as guerillas, forsooth. It is great fun; though characters are one-dimensional, the culture of the Five Galaxies is beautifully realised, and there is discussion of the meaning of “Redemption”.

Atwood disappointed me. The book runs parallel to Oryx and Crake, in which she wiped out most of humanity after showing it in a nasty and brutish dystopia. I was hoping for new revelations to make the bleakness of the first book pale into insignificance, and found more of the same.

Why do I read Proust? I have no idea. There are moments of description which delight and amaze me, such as Bergotte’s last illness: Maddened by uninterrupted pain, to which was added insomnia broken only by brief spells of nightmare. Yet I know that in great part I am reading it in order to have read it, not out of snobbery so much as for my own self-image. I like to think of myself as the kind of person who reads Proust, and Bertrand Russell, and Montaigne. But I would far rather be immersed in the planet Jijo where the Jophur oppress the G’Kek, or in Honolulu Heights where decent people face terrible problems with courage, and win through.

What do I want to read? I am conflicted. I really want to manage my image of myself, for myself- I read Serious Literature because I am Keltured and Idiocated. I do. So I am still reading Proust, mostly in bored distaste but sometimes entranced; and I take long breaks on alien worlds. Well, I can. There are no rules about this.