Consciousness and the unconscious

There is no morality beyond what people imagine is right or wrong or Ought to be. People with these imaginings evolve through natural selection, from being a social species, and we may observe different people with different ideas about what Ought to be, and what they value, and from that construct a morality to achieve the best result for that society.

Shakespeare thought that arguable: he has Hamlet say There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.

I used to think my morality is for me– that is, when I have a thought about what is the right thing to do I should do it myself, not impose it on others. I don’t know their difficulties or blind spots. Now I think others’ morality is for anyone but themselves, something they can agree on to judge a victim together, to feel good about themselves.

If we construct a morality to enforce our will, this depends on not knowing what we are doing. If we imagine ourselves to be moral people, we could not bear to be aware of using morality as a weapon.

This not knowing why we do what we do applies to lots of things. An example from the NYT:

We think we are sharing news stories in order to do one thing, like transfer knowledge, but much of the time aren’t really trying to do that at all — whatever we may consciously think.

Someone asked whether Mr Trump believes what he says. That ignores why people say things- to enforce dominance or show submission, to build community, to evoke feeling- Mr Trump’s insight is that truth does not matter in doing these things. His opponents might care but his supporters don’t.

As an evolved being, it matters whether I can reproduce, and whether I am conscious of what I am doing depends on whether that increases the likelihood of reproduction over fooling myself. I am not sure it does.

So morality may be an illusion. How could it not be, when pretty much everybody crashes through the world hurting other people and hurting themselves – cheating, lying, sneaking, betraying, laying about them with the broad sword?

And so, consciousness, in which morality plays such a part- mine more or less OK, others’ a mess of viciousness and hypocrisy- must be illusory too. And morality goes beyond conscious impressions into analysis. Under the self-forgiveness I find self-blame.

We have to live with the best we can do, and with disagreement. Often I know what I am doing but not beforehand that I will choose it. I can be in two minds, knowing I ought to get up and shower, and deducing that I don’t want to only from the fact that I don’t, because consciously I imagine that I want to. From this I deduce that unconscious motivation is in control, and conscious motivation- what before thinking about it I would tell myself or others that I wanted- is often illusion.

Or the mechanism linking desire to action is in some way broken, that I want to do something but that does not mean I do it. Then “I” could still be perfectly good, and do bad things haplessly.

So it is necessary to sit in contemplation of what one imagines one wants. Setting words aside I imagine a possible or remembered act and consider what I feel about it. Or I consider what I have actually done in particular situations, rather than what my self-image tells me I ought to (want to) do. Was my past act triumph, failure or simply what emerged from me in the circumstances at the time?

Imagining I could do better may be false reassurance, imagined safety from similar mistakes.

There is a human being, that acts and desires, sees and fails to see, but it is so much more than consciousness.

Are you safe?

I looked down into Cerys’s face as she breastfed. My mirror neurons got to work: the profound contentment and relaxation I read there flooded me for a moment. Her happiness was my happiness. Then I looked away, and the trance lifted. I was back in the room, bewildered by the strength of that feeling.

It was lovely to meet C, who reads Sartre plays in French “for fun” and apologised for not reading The Master and Margarita in the original, who enthused about studying different choreographers and gave me time for my own enthusiasm. And F, who works with people long term sick, trying to get them moving. Not back into work, they don’t manage that often, but into training. She mentioned training for fork-lift truck driving, which made me think of a sudden flood of unemployed fork-lift drivers, and for unskilled labouring, training called “basic work skills” telling people they had to get to work on time. It was a pity that she was sitting listening rather than telling more. Two women, making their way and doing worthwhile things.

Privilege is believing everything will turn out all right. The world as it is fits you. If nothing bad can happen, then you can take risks. If you are not worried about imminent threats, you can make long-term plans. That sense of safety is empowering. If you trust your society, you move freely in it.

I am blogging again, thinking as I write, seeking to unite that sense of safety and the feeling it evokes with a rational sense of the actual threats, and with tolerance or campaigning against wrong, with particular reference to trans issues as always. Consider my friend Fiona, who cross-dressed habitually and often, and went out dressed female. I thought she looked ridiculous, but she thought she passed well: once, a teenager called out “Wig!” which led her to reason that had she read her as trans, she would have called that out too. Once she spent a week cross-dressed, and was utterly sick of it by the end.

I don’t think she would do much harm in a women’s loo. She would go in, use it, wash and dry her hands, leave, like most people. She is not protected by the Equality Act, she shouldn’t be in a women’s refuge or a women’s prison, but she does no harm. Or a gender non-conforming or gender non-binary person, AMAB, not trying to pass as a woman, wants to try on a top in the women’s section so goes into the womens’ changing rooms. Well, there are individual cubicles, so they won’t see anyone undressed and nor will others see them. Great Hoo-ha in press. “I tend to use whichever changing room is nearer,” said my AFAB friend.

Three pairs. Do you object to Fiona in the Ladies’?

There’s that privileged sense that all’s right with the world, and a woke “You will not trample on our rights” resentment of it motivating action.

There’s a sense that society generally supports me, and so it’s going to be alright, and experience that it doesn’t, so that I have to support myself and my rights. The comfortable cis woman can include Fiona as part of her in-group. The woke feminist oppressed by patriarchy won’t.

There’s an optimistic way of looking at opportunities, and a pessimistic concern with threats.

There’s also making your own decision about a threat, and following blindly when the hard Right tells you to punch down on some group.

What is going on with the trans debate? How do I bring those strands together and make them work for inclusion? How do I understand where my opponent is coming from, and bring us together? There is such a thing as society– how can there be a “we” here?

Cerys, sitting on her mother’s knee and just starting to sit up by herself, not yet crawling, has a super-power. She can make adults around her blissful by showing contentment, or distracted by her cries. I don’t know her or her mother, and was affected instantly. There is a clear evolutionary advantage to this, I see. We are bound to each other in sympathy and interest, and split apart. Cerys is safe, with her mother and father and community caring for her. One of the problems we face in the terrible Twos is that our joy and grief no longer have that power, automatically- so how to preserve it? By privilege, by community and by Righteous Truth.

How can there be room in the World, for two people who disagree? How might both of them be safe?

The idea of the Real Self

A concept of a “Real self” could get in the way of being real. If it is a virtuous concept, and I want to see myself as virtuous, it might nudge me to take action I otherwise wouldn’t; and that could be “The practice of Virtue Ethics” (good) or Hypocrisy (bad). How would I know? More likely, it would make me deny qualities. The idea of onesself as “depressive” rather than “having depression” makes depression harder to heal, I read.

Or again my female/ feminine self must be the Real Me, to make transition as irresistible as it was. I had resisted cross-dressing for a year, once, and then started again. I drew comfort from Carl Rogers’ idea of the Self-Concept and the Organismic Self, but that does not mean the Organismic Self is fixed: it could be responsive, in the moment.

Meeting Jeremy Corbyn made me more hopeful about politics than I have been.

That thesis. The experience of violence or control makes it difficult to maintain an individual identity, and as a child I felt controlled, and now I feel my personality was subsumed in my mother’s, for her desires.

I’m feeling malleable, that my feelings, desires and acts can be moulded by others, and that would be fine if I felt myself part of a supportive community, but a threat when I feel marginalised and of low status. If I am moulded I feel it is not in my interests.

The need to preserve a self-concept will get in the way of other needs, eventually undeniably. That could be part of the Waking-up, Rock-bottom moment: you give up trying to pretend that you are who people told you you were, and seek your own interests. Suffering is the origin of consciousness, wrote Достоевский.

If I am malleable, there is no way of escaping the pain. Not in integrity, I am merely, always, confused and hurt.

-One of my trans friends who is exuberant and bubbly most of the time and withdraws from contact with people at other times fears therapy because she’s frightened there’ll be nobody there. You keep taking the skins off the onion. Take the muddle away and there’s nothing underneath, it’s muddle all the way down.

But it could be freeing. If I have integrity, if I am a lump of iron I need a me-shaped hole to fit into. Being mercurial means I can always fit, just flow into the hole available.

Or that I can’t get a complete handle on it using my own language and conscious understanding does not mean that there is no- I’m using too many negatives. EVEN THOUGH I cannot understand myself that doesn’t mean there is no self to understand, but that self includes


I so want something to rely on!

And I had set my heart on having a self-understanding, and relying on that. And having it fixed, rather than having to keep updating it in the light of new information.

Being malleable. That could be bad- there’s no real me and no end to pain, or good- being fluid and able to react.

There should be a Truth, which is comprehensible, except there isn’t.

I see everything in a binary way, and judge it as good or bad. Innate quality is not contrary to social construction, we are nature and nurture. I am a different person in a work situation, and with different friends.

I seek safety, and often it seems to me that I am seeking safety from illusory threats in illusory protection which might be more threatening. I’ve got loads of three dimensional blocks and I’m turning them round and thinking, they must be able to fit together somehow. I’m really intelligent and I must be able to do this. Maybe it does not matter if they don’t- I have partial, inconsistent, and changeable understandings of the world and that is the best I can do, and it’s good enough.

We only assert gender if it is challenged. Most people don’t have their gender challenged. I say I am a woman, and others say no you’re not. But cis women get moulded by the beauty myth into trying to look a certain way.

And if cutting my bits off was a mistake, I have got to get over it sometime.
-OhmyGod that was stupid I can never trust myself again

My Rock would be an unquestionable view of myself as trustworthy, always doing the right thing in the moment, and that is illusory. Rather, I do my thing in the moment and do not understand it, but I have survived, so far. I might trust my reactions more than I do, if I did not second-guess them so much. But if there is a Real Me, I do not know her- or at least, cannot describe her with words.

(c) The Foundling Museum; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Dangerous normality

#MeToo is less effective than I might hope. I had a conversation with a man who wanted to protect innocent men from manipulative, emotional females who make false allegations. I had to explain about similar fact evidence, the Moorov Doctrine, and precisely why I believed Leigh Corfman’s allegations. Roy Moore, a candidate for the Senate, took her to his house out in the country when she was 14, stripped off and got her to put her hand on his penis through his underpants. How could she get away, if he wanted to stop her? How could she get home, without his help? He was 32. I suppose I should use the word “allegedly”- he denies it, no-one else was there- but other women have made similar allegations. He liked young teenage girls, and did not marry until he was 38. This is the man who compares gay sex to bestiality.

Scenario. A woman comes to your church occasionally, who is looking after her uncle. He suffers from Alzheimer’s disease. She has been observed shouting in his face, and once to push him so that he banged his head on a seat. What do you do? We discuss this, and are full of sympathy for her. Looking after someone with Alzheimers is a terrible job. We can so understand someone being under pressure greater than they can bear. And yet- she has committed a criminal assault on him. At best, she is allowing her anger to control her, and reacting to him in a way which could seriously hurt him. She should notice that her better nature is not in control, and seek help. At worst, she is engaged in a campaign of sadistic bullying, and perhaps is caring for him in the hope of inheriting his money.

It is possible that she is a monster, and clear that she is not taking steps to deal with a dangerous situation. Yet we try to make excuses for her. The poor woman, it is too much for her, it would be too much for anyone. We don’t want to believe that she could be that bad.

We need normality and a sense of safety to function in the world. At any moment our lives could end, or be changed irrevocably- from Betelgeuse going supernova to the car accident rendering you paraplegic, there are myriad theats you cannot counter. And yet normally you are OK. So monsters move among us, rendered invisible by Douglas Adams’ “Somebody Else’s Problem field”- The brain just edits it out, like a blind spot. You won’t see it unless you know precisely what it is. People have a natural predisposition not to see anything they don’t want to, weren’t expecting, or can’t explain. Adams imagined invisible spaceships, too weird to notice, but this applies to sex offenders and abusers too. Roy Moore is a Christian, and if Christians did things like that churches would not be safe. We so need churches to be a safe space that we can’t see the signs of abuse.

Saira Ahmed shows how a person who complains is a threat to the group and their (illusory) sense of safety in the group. The answer is to exclude her. It is easier to exclude the complainant than to face the problem about which she complains, and face the truth that we have not been safe, that abusers walk among us, may even have charmed us into thinking them our friends. First they charm us, reassuring us, because charm must indicate they are good, then they behave badly and are seen as good because badness is inconceivable, incredible, it cannot be admitted.

The need to feel safe can prevent us from being safe, because it blinds us to threats.

Safety II

The vast and horrible thing which we try hard to forget: fire, pestilence, storms, earthquakes, or the unleashing of dark moral forces—these callously sweep away in one moment what we had laboriously built up and beautified with all our intelligence and all our love. –Teilhard de Chardin.

The heart of privilege is a sense of safety. All is right with the world, which was made with me in mind. My interests and desires are appropriate, and catered for. One would not imagine the worst coming to the worst, but even then family, or contacts, would make sure you were alright.

I feel that human society has reached a level of wealth and luxury such that there should be a safety net for everyone. Unfortunately the government disagrees, putting in place the minimal “Nightwatchman state” envisaged by Robert Nosick: In Anarchy, State and Utopia, Nozick sets out his ideal notion of governance, involving only the most minimal levels of state involvement, protection of citizens’ most basic rights. However, in practice, such minimalist government poses serious problems. The state has retreated. If you fall, you must get yourself up. And if you can’t, tough.

Nosick perhaps had an eye to more extreme views of anarcho-capitalism. He does not want the life of humanity solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short. He has some idea of a just return for talent properly used, but no idea of how to nourish talent in difficult circumstances. That requires civil society. We live in an abundant world, where there is enough for everyone’s need, though it might be better if the wealth of billionaires, which increased by $1tn in 2016, were distributed equally. The painter Lucien Freud used to gamble prodigiously, tens of thousands of pounds in a night, knowing that with his art he could make more money, feeling able to start painting again, unblocked, when he was cleaned out. If billionaires were really talented, they could start again. No-one need accumulate more than $1bn.

I tried to persuade a radical feminist of my harmlessness by stating some of my distress; this had no effect, because perhaps of her own and that of people she cared about. I explain it in this way because human stories, individual experiences, have a particular effect on me, and so of course everyone must be at least a little like that, really. She would make a class analysis: the class of women, all women, the Queen and Theresa May, are oppressed by the class of men, even the homeless or sick. The least successful man benefits from being a man. Her sympathy has more worthy targets than mere anomalous individuals. As has Nosick’s, when he theorises about the best and most just society for all humanity, which he thinks would be best for the most individuals if not for all.

How to live with the realisation that there is no safety, that the vast and horrible thing may sweep everything away? With braggadocio, perhaps, or denial, or quiet determination; or radical acceptance, seeing God in it. The Lord giveth, and the Lord taketh away; blessed be the name of the Lord.

I am alright for the moment. I am just safe enough.

I went to Johnny’s Happy Place today, named after a suicide, a community organisation with some local authority funding with a pay-as-you-feel cafe and youth groups. I read a handout from some group- everyone has the right to be safe from violence. Imagine a place where you feel safe. If you do not have such a place, imagine what such a place would be like. So many people’s safety is less than mine. There I found two huge home-made soft toys with large cloth eyes and the words HUG ME stitched to each chest. So, before we left, I did.

Ach, it is unbearable. Appreciation is the answer, appreciating the beauty of the World even as it kills you. If you have the strength to do that in a clear-eyed, loving way, do please let me know.

Need and desire

Why “Need,” and not “Desire”?

My wise friend H did not like my formulation, I am Love, Will, Playfulness, Curiosity, Need, Courage. She pointed out “Need” sounds, well, needy. Needy is not good. Adults get their needs through exchange, economically or socially, and needy is needing without having something to exchange- though lots of people like to think of themselves as Charitable therefore Good, so the giving is the reward in itself; and some may be altruistic.

I picked “Need” because some needs are very basic, and I have them. I need food and shelter. Without these I die. They are not mere desires- there are moral rules around how one may satisfy desires, which do not so clearly apply to needs. Particularly, I have moral scruples around desires, which may be over-scrupulous, and working out what are my Needs as a way of surviving.

I am still unlearning my toddler’s lessons, and learning more worthwhile toddler lessons. I  learned I am worthless. I wanted to hide away. I wanted not to impinge. So I did not know what my desires were. They could not and should not be granted.

I need society. I need human interaction. Too much alone, I shrivel up. It is not just a desire.

I need safety. This one is really strange. A troll posted on a Quaker facebook group a 22 minute video arguing that “Evolution is not just highly unlikely, but impossible”. The point of the video was that as we do not yet understand how abiogenesis, the start of life from non-living matter, could happen, God must have done it. It enraged me, then I was weeping at the horror of it, and I am not sure why. I expect Quakers to seek the truth as they best can. I know Biblical literalists have this deep need to believe in Biblical creation, and that makes them impugn the integrity of evolutionists; at any rate they believe something I find false, and no argument across the aisle will produce agreement. As we do not know the truth about abiogenesis, a person of integrity may posit their best guess. People can be wrong in an interesting way.

Perhaps I can tolerate a certain level of precariousness, but at that level small threats become too much. I expect to trust people here. I find I cannot- and the bottom falls out of my world-

This Need not Desire is a toddler’s eye view. Toddlers have little agency. Adults should have the ability to choose what they want, and gain it. I don’t have strong belief in my agency. Too many experiences have contradicted such belief. This might have some link to the inexplicable Sooner strangle an infant in its cradle than nurse unacted desires.

The moral imperative works the other way. I have need- and I have value, so it is a moral imperative to preserve me, and fulfil my needs. And, I may graduate to desire, when I reach teenage. Baby steps…

Truthfulness II

I am a truthful person. I value my truthfulness. But it is not a bulwark against the vicissitudes of life.

When I was considering transition, I interrogated myself- is this fantasy? Is this sexual perversion? If it was true that I was transsexual, then it was right for me to transition. On balance, it was, but I wanted more than that, I wanted to be clear that life would be bearable afterwards. Then I had lots of insults in the street in the days after, and broke down in tears.

It is a pain being trans. Not transitioning can be ghastly. Transitioning can be ghastly too, though not always: some of us are extremely strong and resilient. I saw one on the telly last night, being asked about her academic expertise with no need to allude to the fact that she is trans. Her face and voice are good too, but there is something about her figure and her hairline that meant I read her, so I went to look her up: she had been outed by the gutter press.

What is the truth of a situation? After a certain amount of effort to understand, further effort does not produce proportionate gains. I had the feeling of trying to remain upright in a storm at sea, with the deck bucking and twisting beneath me- holding myself tense is exhausting, relaxing and going with the movement, riding it, might be easier.

And, I keep the truth of my current situation below consciousness, much of the time. I do not like it, but do not see how I can improve it. Though I take action to improve it when I can. This might be common: Quiet desperation is the English way sang Pink Floyd. Ah, it’s from Walden: The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation. What is called resignation is confirmed desperation.

I love my truthfulness, and fear that it was important to me in part because it was part of my self-image as a Good Person. I need to be a Good Person so I will be Safe- but that does not matter either, bad things happen to good people. And- integrity matters. Insofar as I lie to others, I lie to myself, which makes me less able to respond to the world as it is. My reputation matters to me.

And- I go back on my word, and I lie. I let people down. Well, I am not perfect. No-one is. I do my best.

Attention III

Is your desire for attention Histrionic personality disorder?!

It is a bad thing to look for attention if that gets in the way of more substantive goals or causes distress to self or others, causing problems with two or more of affect, cognition, interpersonal functioning or impulse control. Do you feel uncomfortable when you are not the centre of attention? This could be a great motivator. You make yourself attractive, and practise good conversation. You build a good career because people pay attention to successful people. Or, you act out a role in all relationships, and behave seductively or provocatively for a more immediate attention hit. This may alienate friends. Then the downer afterwards just gets worse, and you get depressed. You cannot delay gratification.

Your feelings may be rapidly shifting and expressed shallowly- they are real feelings, but their effect is to get attention. That is, you do not consciously choose behaviour to get attention, your preconscious emotional responses pursue it, in maladaptive ways. You may use physical appearance or theatricality to gain attention, and may be easily influenced.

These characteristics are exaggerated from traits which are entirely healthy, or part of the human condition as a social species- we need others.

I googled “need attention” and found psychcentral.

I read this and recognise myself. So I analyse. Am I like this, in a harmful way? Is it harming me? People have conflicting desires and needs, and learn better or worse ways of fulfilling those needs. I analyse too much, because I am good at analysis, or can produce understandings which please me. I feel unsafe, so analyse in an attempt to protect myself. If I can find what desires give me lasting happiness and the optimum way to pursue them, I can be OK. My moral understanding- what I ought to desire- and my ideology, my false understandings of how to get it, get in the way. “This ought to work! They said so!” I say, and double down on my failed course.

Or I go into a sulk.

I don’t feel safe. All my attention then goes on seeking to make myself safe. Perhaps I am really bad at life- I could write how much people achieve that I haven’t- and perhaps as Hardy wrote, the failure has a unique perspective on how to succeed.


Safe spaces

No, I do not erase feminism. I subvert the patriarchy by rejecting male privilege and the male role in which I was brought up. We are subject to violence for this. I have been assaulted, and shouted at, and after a lot of verbal abuse pointed stares began to get scary for me.

If I was cis, I might still be working.

A university campus should be a safe space for trans people. It is not that we should not be exposed to hostile ideas, but that they should not be given authority. If we discuss around the seminar table the idea that a trans woman is a man, really, or what that should mean for women’s spaces, that is different from Germaine Greer being clapped and cheered for saying “I don’t believe a woman is a man without a cock”. That feels unsafe to me. It feels hostile.

Ideas can erase me. I believed the theory of autogynephilia, that I was a pervert, and transition was an erotic fantasy: trying to live it would be impossible. I disgust some people, and that theory is an excuse for them.

Why Evolution is True wrote about Maryam Namazie being heckled at Goldsmiths college, and the student feminist society supporting the Islamic Society in opposing her speaking. Previously, the Islamic Society invited a speaker who calls for the murder of apostates. Maryam Namazie, an apostate, stands up for women’s rights against FGM, the veil, Islamic oppression.

Goldsmiths should be a safe space for apostates. However, two wrongs don’t make a right. To whom is Namazie speaking? Not just former Muslims, but mostly white atheists. Someone learning in class that evolution is true, yet who, because of background and culture has a large part of his identity as Muslim, may feel erased (the non-inclusive language is intentional). It is not just the idea that I am in error about certain things, but that my identity and heritage are poisonous; that I am the enemy and the oppressor; and that they may use force against me. God save me from people who need to defend themselves or those they identify as my victims against me.

The ideas are not a threat, but ideas backed with power to enforce, or by a cheering audience, are.

I believed my employer would find a pretext to sack me. I believed autogynephilia theory. I envied a woman I knew who was dying, slowly and painfully, because she was unequivocally female. I would prefer to be an obvious tranny than to present male. The drive is that strong. I don’t feel safe. Disagreement with me about the nature of my idiosyncrasy is OK. Hostility to me is not, even if justified as “free speech”, because it silences me and therefore reduces free expression. We have to get along.

Here is MTV, advertising a quiz on Disney channel cartoons beside a serious article. Don’t be a jerk. Form your arguments in a way that’s respectful. It’s a bar so low you could trip over it. As I write, all nine comments are hostile.

Here is The Atlantic on physical intimidation used to “protect safe space”. But no-one is just talking: they are seeking to get their way, including the use of force. Words hurt: those pastors saying that queers should be put behind a great big fence, while their congregations shout A-MEN, frighten me. Before you can attack me, you have to dehumanise me. Scapegoating gives any group a warm glow of righteousness.

I know it is not simple. One might call the Apostates the victims, in need of protection, until like Maryam Namazie they speak up and I call her a helper of oppressors. Some feminists claim that my presence in women’s space makes it unsafe, because I am a man. Perhaps those of us who can, should speak up for our own victims.

I quite like the idea of being a Social Justice Warrior, even when the term is used in a hostile, unsafe manner. My irony detector is set to zero.

Blake, Canterbury pilgrims detail