Saturday, December 31, 2016

antisocial diagnostic terms

How is it that I made the leap, equating psychopaths with indifference to social norms?  Is the correlation between the two obvious, or maybe, something I need to explain my thinking on a bit better?

If someone is insensitive or callous, in my experience, this tends to mean they are both less prone to empathy, as well as less concerned with what other people think of them and the like.  This is a typical trait of the psychopath - to be the polar opposite of a social phobic.  Antisocial Personality Disorder often manifests as highly social, narcissistic, and self-confident.  To me, this is implies physiological correlation.  The neurological mechanism which makes a person sensitive in one way, might also be making them sensitive in another.  Tweak the dials over here, making an unintended changes over there.

This is not to say that the two can't be separated, or that there wouldn't be exceptions, and an implication is a far cry from proof.  Only that I'm skeptical without experience of good examples.  Most people are in between, most people follow basic rules of social behavior, and can seem decent and nice, regardless of where they fall on the spectrum.  Some people can even seem exceptionally nice, but that isn't the same as being exceptionally caring.

We can hold this ideal of attaining a mental state which logically separates these traits, especially as they seem conceptually unrelated - but if they are mechanistically correlated, that might not be realistic.

In Mahayana Buddhism, a Bodhisattva is a practitioner able to reach enlightenment, who delays doing so out of compassion, in order to save suffering beings.  This must include even the worm on the sidewalk, and maybe I'm not the first person to think there might be an inherent contradiction at play, here.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

optimistic nihilism

One of the primary ways I've learned to survive depression has been to remind myself that all phenomena is temporary.  Sometimes most significantly, my emotions, the thoughts that arise, my outlook on life.  Different variables go into these things.  I saw an interview with a North Korean defector the other day, who talked about when half her village died of starvation, the survivors were generally happy people, who laughed and enjoyed life, when they could.  She mused that people in China and South Korea seemed less happy, because they weren't struggling to survive.  Saying that with all their comfort and spare time, they think too much, finding all sorts of things to be unhappy about.

I think, a simplification with some truth to it.  Depends on our own lives, our own experiences of struggling, spare time, and neurochemistry, not to mention the mental resources we have to sort it all out, and the inclination we have to bother doing so.  I think it varies from person to person, I think there are variables that go into whether it's true or not, that tend be overlooked.  A person who loses half their family to starvation can be happier than someone who's never had much of a family, and the vast spectrum of grey area that is the human experience gets pretty complicated.

Not to get all abstract nor morbid, when I say that it's all temporary, though.  In my own life, in my experience, moods fluctuate for no discernible reason.  All bad experiences have been resolved by waiting them out, including the things that make me miserable.  My entire outlook might be better tomorrow, through absolutely nothing intentional on my part, other than keeping my shit together long enough to experience it.

There are recreational drugs I've taken, that have made me feel much worse, before they fully kicked in and became awesome.  Just as often, I've found myself trying to wait out the bad experience, only to eventually realize that was the whole trip.  Was it just bad, or did I ruin it with the mindset of waiting it out?  Patience is supposed to be a virtue, but how much of my life fell away, because I waited and waited and never got around to living?

Or has it been remarkably successful, given that I am, not only still breathing, but in my own place, keeping my rent and bills paid, even feeding myself.  This is a miserably low bar, by some standards - and an ambitiously high one, by others.  I hate being the sort who gets a nice pat on the head for vaguely resembling a grown up at times, without drooling too much.  Not that there's anything wrong with that.

I hate that I can't seem to rise above caring about petty egocentric things, like the sort of person I am, whatever the hell that really means.  Maybe it would be better if I were starving and oppressed, right?  Maybe, depending on how you prioritize things.  Everything is turned on it's head, just by placing these arbitrary values differently.

It would be better to feel less self-doubt and angst, in exchange for a fifty-fifty chance of starving to death?  What's the point of living, if you're not really living, goes the common refrain.  Yeah, try not living, right?  It's all nonsense when you get down to it.

What's important and what isn't?  None of it.. but we still want to be happy.  We value what seems most likely to bring that, personal relationships, more shiny new stuff, new philosophies on life.  What works best, in the short term, or the long term, or when we're looking back on it all from our death beds.

Anything that we've learned might actually work.  None of it matters, if it isn't psychologically rewarding in this way.  Which is to say, none of it matters.  It's all just our minds, playing tricks on us.  So, as the Zen bit goes, "when you're not thinking of anything good and anything bad, at that moment, what is your original face?"

Friday, December 23, 2016

compassionate misanthropy

One can hate all of humanity, still noting the progress of people being slightly less awful to each other.  I support everyone at least vaguely moving in that direction.  In the US, we have these two parties, increasingly splintering off into entirely different cultures.  Even people who don't give a damn about politics, predominantly surrounded by one group or the other.

Republicans are worse, as they say.  It's not an easy point to refute.  In my frustration with Democrats, I have tried.  Maybe they're not the same, but complicit.  Is it really worse to be the executioner, than the guy who brings him the axe?  Well yeah, it kind of is.  Get to know them as people, and generally, the guy carrying the axe is more redeemable.. but when you've seen him help behead countless people, that can seem a distinction without a difference.

I have been deeply troubled, all my life, by all the people in the world being awful to each other.  People, most of all, but all of life, really.  I can't watch a lion take down a meal, a cat catch a bird, or a hunter shooting for sport, without feeling sick.  As a kid, I remember seeing a worm that had made it's way out of the grass, onto the sidewalk where it would dry out and die.  As I moved to help it back to safety, a millipede bolted out of nowhere and chomped into the worm.  I was horrified to realize how incredibly helpless the worm was, in a world that not only doesn't care, but often seems quite enthusiastic in its brutality.  I just heard of "screw worms" a few weeks back, apparently sieging Florida.  Fucking hell, why does anything like this even exist?

Course, I know why.  As close as we can come to understanding anything of the world around us, I can see the causal chain that makes life like this.  Always trying to work out the details, but just as I don't understand all the calculations that go into the physics of gravity, I basically understand why things fall.

The scope of it all is overwhelming.  Does any of it matter?  If I shouldn't suffer empathy for a dog being abused on the other side of the planet, why should I suffer it for people close to me, for people within our borders, within our communities, our families, or even ourselves?  This is only natural, chemical reactions, reacting to their environment, but this does not mean it's logical.  It doesn't mean that there need be any rational justification for it.

If we aspire to think, and act, based on reason above all else, we should at least be able to face that direction, in spite of these chemical reactions, right?  Or do we just admit that we're not governed by reason at all, that we're just puppets being hopelessly helplessly jerked around?  When taken to its logical conclusion, such an enlightened person should be able to look upon any suffering, anywhere, any time.  This is just life.  It is what it is.. but that does not seem compassionate.  That would seem its exact opposite.

Are there people who have reached that level of spiritual awakening?  It must be an awakening of sorts, because it's simply the awareness of what's true.  Compassion itself might be antithetical to that, and the very concept of enlightenment, if it's to be taken at all seriously, can't be predicated on staying in the dark.  So, when people act so deeply indiscriminately, then they must honestly have no problem with others thinking that they're assholes for it, right?  Being hurt by that, but not all the far worse suffering around would be awfully hypocritical.  Yet to be indifferent would mean being a psychopath.

If there is anyone in the world to have honestly attained that level of awareness, genuinely, honestly, without being a psychopath, I'd sure like to ask them a few things.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

childhood GHD

Even people that have known me all my life, do they remember it, the way I do?  I remember being picked up from school, when I was about seven.  A little while after having spent three days in the hospital for testing.  I asked how long I'd have to get shots for.  I began sobbing upon being told that it would be every other day, for upwards of ten years.  I don't know if I was crying about all those needles, or if it had more to do with realizing that this wasn't something that would be cured and put behind me.  This was going to be a part of my life, for quite a while.

Starting second grade, at eight years old, I looked like I was maybe five.  Due to hiccups in getting treated, even my little sister was bigger and appeared older than me, by the time I was nine.  It wasn't that I was short.  My physiological development was entirely stunted, so I looked and sounded much younger than I was.   Adults seem to have trouble grasping just how much three years matters, to little kids - and even not-so-little kids.

Getting bullied was not the issue.  It felt more like I had no peers at all.  A more cheerful extrovert might have been able to make up the difference, but a more cheerful extrovert, I was not.  The older I got, the more this seemed to impact my social life.   Not just because kids are assholes, but because it was also shaping my psychological development.  I had trouble relating to them, anyhow.  I sometimes wonder if hormonal deficiencies can impact neurological development, as well.  The older I get, the more that seems to impact my social life.

Though I hate to admit it, I think on some level, I'm still that little kid.  By the time I was fifteen, I was almost catching up.  An emotional trainwreck, but just a little on the short side.  The science being poorly understood as it was, I was then taken off treatment.  My epiphyseal plates had just about closed.  That isn't even remotely all GH does however, so I got to spend the next twenty years looking maybe fourteen years old.  Least I never had to shave.

I don't know how much of my life has been shaped by that, itself.  It didn't help that my mother thought it was a good idea to move from state to state, while raising kids.  The few friends I did make, left behind.  Again.  I think all that might have fried some of the social receptors in my brain.  Which then became self-reinforcing, over the years of rewiring around it.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

hunger isn't so bad

I've been trying to keep my food consumption to a minimum, but I keep getting hungry.  Every day.  You get pretty used to it after a while.  I'm certainly not starving.  I had some lentils and rice, yesterday.  Coffee this morning.  That helps.  It's not a great feeling, though..  I go into this detail not for sympathy, but because without specifics, relative statements can be functionally meaningless. To talk about suffering of one sort of another, I think it's important to be clear on what we're discussing.  It isn't just a question of sympathy not to confuse the discomfort of hunger, with famine and starvation.  It's about clarity, and so, to be clear, this is where I'm coming from.  This is the sort of hunger I'm using to launch into discussing something or other.

I've actually forgotten where I was going with this, but it will come to me.  In the meantime, I'm reminded of one of the many facets of the sort of hunger I'm talking about.  It interferes with brain function.  Memory, concentration.. this isn't news, but these sorts of details get left of discussions on poverty, and why it can be such a trap to get out of.  Not all of it is systemic to society, but systemic to nature.  It can undermine functionality in some pretty fundamental ways.

It's complicated, and there are so many factors involved.  Poverty in a town that has a great public school system isn't nearly as bad as poverty in a town with a terrible public school system.  That single factor alone can make a huge difference in the well-being and economic mobility of impoverished children that grow up there.  Now compare towns with ample nutritional benefits to those where the poor can't afford enough food, and live in a food desert.  It's poverty either way, but those can be important distinctions to make.

As for me, I actually have enough on my EBT card for groceries.  Well, sorta, and I haven't always, but in this case, that isn't the problem.  It mostly just reminds me of those times when I literally couldn't afford food for a while.  That really sucked, but I did get used to it.  Some call Winooski a food desert, but that's a bit of a stretch.  It's a small town, a mile square, so it isn't really saying that much, that there isn't a single grocery store within the town itself.  It's just a pain to walk the three miles, lugging groceries along the side of a highway.  Not even a goddamn sidewalk, and biking it would be seriously perilous.  Public transit?  Even worse.

It's doable, but I tend to procrastinate for a while.  It doesn't help that I'm borderline agoraphobic as it is, or maybe just pathologically lazy.  It takes me all day, just to get myself moving and then it's dark and everything is closing.  Other people struggle with more straight-forward physical limitations.  Whatever the issue may be, all of it would be so much easier, not if I were wealthier, but if the town I lived in were better designed, with public transit, bike lanes, and commercial zoning access that doesn't assume we can all afford cars.

Sometimes I think to myself that being hungry isn't so bad, as I ration out the last vestiges of food from my cupboards.  I try not to think about how it's bad for my health, mental and physical, or how I can't even think about running, because I honestly can't spare the calories, for the time being.  I can relax though, and I'm otherwise comfortable.  I'm happier not thinking about those things.  Sometimes it sounds odd me.  It's not that bad.  Yeah, I guess.  It still sucks, though.

It's all relative, right?  20% of Winooski is even poorer than I am - Winooski VT Economic Data - you'd think this town would be better designed for it, but that's rarely how it works.  Generally, the poor can't afford to live in places that are designed to accommodate poverty.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

transcendental disbelief

Was just reading an article on a recent neuroscience study of religious people.  Mormons.  They measured brain activity, during religious behaviors.  What they found that it lit up the reward center, much like being in love or popping oxycodones.  Something about ventral striatums and caudate nuclei.

As it got me thinking about the role of reward processing in belief, I eventually got around to thinking, well yeah.  Duh.  Of course it's rewarding.  It makes people "happy."  Why else would they believe such nonsense?  It's highly motivated reasoning.  The larger question for me, is why it doesn't work on everyone.  It's easy to dismantle religious belief, when it does nothing for us, anyhow.  Some may be in between, where they see the appeal, but not so much that they lose all capacity for reason.  A spectrum, I'm sure, but somewhere in there, a variable that generally pulls people in one of two opposing directions.

For me, well, I tried.  Judaism, Buddhism, Jainism, Taosim, from Dzogchen to Kabbalah.. I just couldn't get into any of it.  Some good ideas, some terrible ideas, lots of brilliantly creative art and music - but on an emotional level, attempting to practice any of it?  Totally fucking pointless.

Why do we do anything?  It's simple cause and effect.  The reward system is how evolution goads us into surviving in a reality that is, otherwise, totally fucking pointless.  That's not a judgment, but a fact, hard to face as it may be, when you've got the reward centers of your brain lighting up for all sorts of reasons, telling you otherwise.  In complex and indirect ways reward processing could play a fundamental role in manufacturing any sense of purpose we have in life, and the patterns we develop to make something of it.

Asking what's the point of it all might seem little more than a cliche of depression, on it's face, a senseless question.  I could name all sorts of things of nearly indisputable value, much of which depends on humans giving a damn.  Yet, that's not the point.

It really describes a feeling.  Another thing neuroscientists have discovered is that a whole lot of the time, people take action - and then - formulate a rationale for it.  We naturally underestimate the significance of what's going on beneath the surface, how we feel often being our most substantial clue.  We might say get over it, shrug it off, do what you need to do - but, by then, it's too late.  We're doing or we're not doing, and the mind is just babbling about it, after the fact.

Understanding the self doesn't have a purpose, other than more broadly wanting to understand our situation.  It's another fundamental of the human experience, I think, to want to understand what we're dealing with, so as to best survive it.

From everything I've read, it seems maybe my understanding of the reward system is a little different.  I think it may play a much more substantial role in our lives than widely believed.  It could be what makes depression so crippling, and religion so inspiring.  Or it could be a developmental outcome of depression, particularly during childhood.  The system only comes together if a child learns that life is worth living.