Stepping Out

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While I’m on the Paul McKenna buzz, I must just quickly share one technique of his that has saved my sanity on more than one occasion, and kept depression from my door for a good ten years now.

Much in the same way as I mentioned yesterday about visualising who or how you’d like to be and stepping into that vision of yourself, so stepping out of repeated bad memories that have plagued me also works like a charm.

In the past I have become fixated on negative emotions and memories, quite often playing the same sequence in my head over and over again, making myself feel utterly lousy. So, by consciously playing that memory, but then mentally stepping back from the image, so you are no longer immediately in the frame, and then draining the colour from the mental image, drains its emotional hold over you.

You can then go one step further by putting a frame around the image and then imaging that frame disappearing off, or being blown up or shrinking to nothing.

Then you are left with just you in the present moment, and the emotional hold that mental projection has over you is massively weakened. Of course, the bad images come back, but each time, go through the process and each time they come back weaker, and eventually not at all.

What’s next?

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Nigel Farage writes in the Telegraph today that he believes people no longer identify as left-wing or right-wing, but rather as Remainers or Leavers.

It’s an interesting stance to take, but I’m not convinced it holds much water. In the short term it does; all the time there is the chance Brexit could be stopped, conservatives (small c) that wish to keep things just as they are, will do all they can to preserve the status quo.

Mr Farage identifies these people as un-democratic, and focuses his party on ‘restoring democracy’. Obviously, this is a populist stance. It’s easy to paint the government as patently anti-Brexit, particularly with its pervading liberal authoritarian viewpoint. But Brexit is convoluted and complex. Most of the current MPs voted for Article 50; they all agreed we should leave. Since then though, they’ve become hopelessly divided over exactly how to leave. Simply reducing it down to ‘we haven’t left yet, democracy is broken’ might be a little bit disingenuous. Yes, the likes of Letwin, Cooper, etc. have tried to take control of the situation to ‘stop the process’, but they could only do that because of the division about the way forward and lack of leadership from number 10, not necessarily because the system was broken. Indeed some people went along with them as they saw it as a way to break the deadlock, particularly with the indicative votes.

This disparity of consensus is also showing up in the leadership race. Each of the 5 million candidates has a slightly different take on how to do the Brexit thing, from Hard-No-Deal Raab through to Second-Referendum Gyimah.

The thing is, ‘we haven’t left yet, democracy is broken,’ is a nice simple concept for people to wrap their heads around. It’s also emotive. It ticks all the right boxes to get the old brain chemicals firing and stir up a bit of conflict in the old grey matter.

But what happens once Brexit actually happens (and it should do, most MPs agree with that)? We’ll move on, some people will be disgruntled, others vaguely happy something got done, but maybe not so happy with the eventual compromises I think we’ll have to make (even No Deal is a sort of compromise). What does a Leaver or a Brexiteer stand for once we’ve left? These are the messages that the Brexit Party need to focus on, I think. Some of the conservative leadership candidates have cottoned on to this, like Boris with his UBI-lite school funding.

It’s about time the Brexit Party started defining more of what they would stand for post-Brexit, and show how they will unite the likes of Fox and the Widdecombe. There is plenty to talk about, I’d just like to hear it.

I believe

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Robert Tombs made an interesting argument yesterday on the difference between Leavers and Remainers. I’m not sure I entirely agree with the logic, but I do agree with the conclusions that on the whole, Remainers seem to come from a position of pessimism, while Leavers are naturally optimistic.

Tombs argues that the Remainers are irrational, and have an unhealthy fixation on their gut instinct that drives them to denigrate Britain’s ability to survive outside of the EU, and a logical consequence of this is to look down on the plebs of Britain, imagining themselves not British, but part of the greater European Empire. In contrast, Leavers must be rational optimists.

I would argue that the pessimism vs. optimism argument holds true, although the rationalism vs. irrationalism does not.

We are all ‘rational’ creatures, but what we ‘think’ about various subjects is down to our subsconsious (see Why Do I love You?). As our subconscious does not deal with language, emotions bubble up from our subconscious, mostly filtered through the right brain before the logical left brain can start to make sense of them.

Those opinions espoused by the subconscious are driven by our unconscious biases which have been shaped over the years by the countless stories we’ve been told and we repeat to ourselves. We try to make sense of these emotions with our logical, rational mind, and usually fail (or at the very best manage to stop ourselves saying anything too politically incorrect or embarrassing). Unless the debate is blindingly obvious, (and Brexit is not), rationalising anything usually ends up in us trying to grapple with things our brains can’t really deal with, so we just end up going with what we feel is right.

As the debate for Brexit was, from a rational perspective, fairly balanced (you could comfortably argue for or against), the final decision comes down to our unconscious biases. Thus, the general attitude towards Brexit of Leavers, from what I’ve seen, is one of optimism and belief in the country; that of Remainers, one of pessimism and a lack of faith in the country and its people. It is this issue of faith that is, I think, the real dividing line between Leave and Remain. It’s down to whether you believe we can or we can’t.

I personally choose the optimistic outlook every time. I believe that we are all intelligent, clever people (and not so dissimilar as those obsessed with class or of a liberal authoritarian bent would like to believe). We may express this in many different ways, which to me just makes the whole thing more wonderful. Time and again, we are the embodiment of proof that when we work together the result is much, much greater that the constituent parts.

The Chemical Brothers

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Continuing on from yesterday’s post, there’s one other interesting thing about the brain that has deep implications for storytelling.

It would seem that to get someone’s attention fully, we need to show or tell them something that does two things to their brain.

First off, it must interest them. When their brain becomes engaged with something that arouses curiosity or some kind of emotional response, it releases the chemical Dopamine. This ensures that their attention will remain on what you are telling them.

You might assume this would be enough, but to really get someone’s attention, you must also get their brain to generate Norepinephrine (or Noradrenaline as we Brits refer to it). As you might guess from the UK version of the name, this is generated in situations of stress or danger.

The most effective state of attention can be attained when these two neurotransmitters are found in the brain in equal amounts. The good news is, because of the brain’s ability to behave the same way in both real and imagined situations, both chemicals should be released when someone experiences a good story, well told.

The Argument for Faith

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Yesterday I talked about how society/the extended order is always evolving. This, I think, is linked to the ideas that Daniel J. Siegel explores regarding emotions in ‘The Neurobiology of We’.

His key argument is that our brains, our minds (which he considers two separate things) and our relationships with each other work in a kind of permanent feedback loop. Emotions, he argues can only be formed when we express our need for something (i.e. from a parent, a lover etc.) and they respond. At this point we integrate the need and the response into what we would call an emotion. Emotions by themselves can’t really exist. The danger here is that if we don’t have anyone to feedback to us, our brains can work overtime to second guess those responses and develop emotions – and if you think the worst, so depression can spiral out of control.

In the same way, societal systems, values and traditions can only develop when people interact and relationships develop implicitly around often unspoken acknowledgement that something feels right. A person has an idea, and shares the idea or acts on it. Only when he gets feedback from others on it can its worth be appreciated. The idea in and of itself is valueless.

Over time the weaker ideas die off, and the good ones are strengthened, developing into laws, traditions etc. So society evolves. More dangers exist when those with a conservative mindset fail to see the bigger picture, which is just as difficult as trying to plan society, and try to push back against the changes without fully appreciating what they are doing.

And it’s here that I think the concept of faith comes into play, because society is big and complex, far more than our somewhat irrational, anthropomorphic ideas about God. If we need some kind of faith, it’s in trusting society to sort itself out and not trying to interfere too much, if at all. If you can do that, then I believe magic happens, and things far greater than any of us could ever imagine will occur. But only if we let it.

How We Become We

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I’m listening to a fascinating audiobook at the moment which is so full of big ideas I’m sure I’ll be listening to it again and again in the coming months and years. It’s called ‘The Neurobiology of We’ by Dr Daniel J. Siegel M.D.

It’s more like a series of lectures in which he builds up a coherent argument based around relationships, the mind and the brain and how the three interact. He starts with exploring how memories are formed before moving on to look at how our character traits develop as children. This he uses as a foundation to explore what emotions are (and they are more complicated than you’d think) before topping it off with the most sensible and meaningful exploration of mindfulness I’ve seen in a long time, if ever.

I’ll be exploring a lot of the ideas in coming posts, but if you have an Audible account, it’s well worth checking out (although stick with it as it starts quite slowly, and I almost wrote him off as a bit of a hippy before the serious science kicked in).

I’m still processing a lot of the ideas and trying to tie it in with my fledgling theories of society and liberty based on my readings of Hayek (in particular) and von Mises, but the links are definitely there. It’s a shame there’s no book version (that I’m aware of). Two key concepts that have really got my mind whirring are maximising complexity (which comes out of chaos theory) and his ideas of coherence and integration.