Sunday, October 14, 2018

Thoughts On Caitlin Johnstone And Russell Brand

On Caitlin Johnstone And Russell Brand And Addiction And Gaslighting

In 2010, I read The Easy Way To Quit Smoking and finally was able to overcome my addiction to cigarettes. The author, Alan Carr, explained my current (and his former) inability to overcome a habit that was doing me physical harm and also keeping me feeling as though I was not in charge of my own life. In the process of exploring my relationship with cigarettes, I began to understand that it was not necessary or helpful to blame myself or consider my inability to quit as a sign of moral or physical weakness. As he said, I had fallen into a trap, and recognizing it as a trap I could begin the process of liberating myself from it. So that when I finally decided I was never going to smoke again, I did so eagerly and joyfully. And in the process, I discovered that I had the power to make positive change.

Alan Carr pointed out to me the various misunderstandings I had in regard to my addictive behavior, and as he did so, the bars of my cage of addiction dissolved one by one. This, more than anything, led me to not merely the concept but the actual experience of self-liberation. There was not some force outside of me that was greater than me, that I had no control over. I had mastery over my addiction and my own life. I was free. And I very much had a feeling I could now describe as being “woke”, but which I then referred to as being freed from a prison.
 Which is why I immediately identified with Russell Brand when I first heard him discussing politics and society in general. Here was someone who had overcome far greater addictions than my own. But still, the patterns are the same. The traps are the same and the way the mind rationalizes and looks away from unpleasant truths is no different regardless of the addiction or fixed mental compulsion. There is something that occurs on a subconscious level in the addict that leads him to retreat from healthy decision-making into the destructive but comfortable cycle of addiction and self-destruction. Even a cage can provide one with a sense of security when one fears the outside world. 

My escape from a destructive routine is also why I was so enthralled with Caitlin Johnstone when I first read her. Hers was a message of the need to emerge from a destructive mindset into a healthier way of connecting not only to oneself but with the world. From her I was introduced to the concepts (I'll later explain why paradigm is a better word than concept) "woke" and "gaslighting". Though they were new concepts that opened up new ways of seeing for me, they ran parallel to what Russell Brand spoke of and what I had experienced. 
The terms used to describe the process of abandoning a destructive mindset and opening up to healthy one are different but the idea is the same. Caitlin Johnstone uses the term “narrative” to explain what needs to be recognized as the faulty mindset that needs to be overcome. Though the narrative she refers to is a societal narrative, it must be addressed on a personal level as well. Russell Brand’s philosophy is deeply rooted in the 12-step program, a program used to help individuals overcome addiction. Basically stated, the individual has to admit that he is unable to overcome his addiction on his own and recognize there is a higher power which can give strength. While this higher power is often referred to as God, Russell also reinterprets it to show that an individual cannot overcome his addiction until he recognizes his pattern of behavior (i.e. ego) and is able to see a larger reality and connect to it. Russell sees the addictive behavior as an unconscious program, which is little different from a narrative you uncritically (and unconsciously) accept. While Caitlin begins with the societal and works towards the individual, Russell Brand begins with the individual and points out the societal attitudes that are responsible for many of the addictive behaviors we engage in.

Before I encountered either of them, influenced by Alan Carr and an experience of overcoming addiction that proved revelatory to me, I came up with my own term for what Caitlin describes as narrative and Russell describes as program. I called it paradigm. I was stuck in a paradigm that said my addiction was a reflection of my own weakness, and I required an alternative paradigm to free myself from my addiction. In achieving a more constructive paradigm, I transcended the ineffectual one. I was in a very real way “woke”, since the results were verifiably real and life-altering. Of course, being unfamiliar with Caitlin Johnstone at the time, I did not refer to it as “woke” but used the word self-liberation (a term borrowed from Houdini, who described himself as a self-liberator in performing escapes. You see, I had taken to writing fiction and was exploring such concepts in my Amazing Morse series, about a magician who is able to escape the mundane reality he has come to accept as an adult and rediscover the magic he had perceived as a youth.). While Russell calls harmful behavior patterns "programs" and Caitlin points out "gaslighting" as a means of keeping people in such patterns, I referred to them as “ruts”. The more well-worn a rut was, the harder to pop one’s head above to see beyond them. Ruts are naturally occurring not only to individuals but to societies. To escape a rut requires overcoming the fear of the unknown.

But while Russell Brand and I were familiar with the self-imposed traps into which a person could fall, Caitlin’s terms gaslighting and narrative have a different element to them. Both narrative and gaslighting imply an “other”, a jailer, one who places you or ensnares you in your trap or at least discourages you from leaving it. Without pretending to understand Caitlin’s background more than I do, let me posit that her perspective is derived not from a struggle with addiction but with an unhealthy relationship or mindset towards relationships. If this is true then in her case there was an active agency keeping her from self-liberation, from becoming woke and transcending unconscious programs. Whereas I saw the need for a different paradigm/narrative/program, the thing I had to overcome was merely something of my own creation. A narrative is a paradigm told to you by another, by an individual or a ruling class which seeks to rule through coercion. It is vital to view our understanding of many issues as narratives fed to us by those with their own agendas. Because there are those within society willing to lie and gaslight others into an understanding of the world that benefits them but harms us as individuals and society itself.

I believe both ways of perceiving the situation as being useful tools to be deployed at different times. While the concept of narrative is vital, it is also important to remember that many of those pushing harmful narratives are also victims of them, also stuck in traps they would be more happy freed from. We don't always have to blame people for the false narratives that exist. Indeed, every single narrative that has ever been falls short of accurately describing reality. And yet they are all evolutionary attempts at organizing society and our own minds. Let us learn even from the failed ones and question the ones that are currently functioning. They are all fingers that point at the moon, but they are never the moon. The more narratives/paradigms/fingers pointing at the truth, the easier it is to see it.

Indeed, I believe the more paradigms we are capable of seeing through, the more nuanced we are able to perceive reality. The more paradigms we are able to hold within ourselves, the less likely we will surrender ourselves entirely or uncritically to a single paradigm, which is inevitably simplistic. We need to hold onto the paradigms that have shaped our lives since childhood even as we realize that we have outgrown their ability to define our world for us. That they have shaped us at all is proof that we will never be utterly free of them.

At the same time, we must recognize the truly revolutionary paradigms that are presently emerging, which are redefining our understanding of the world we live in similar to how Origin Of Species reshaped humanity's understanding a century-and-a-half ago. We are getting currently some pretty intriguing glimpses of a paradigm that is still nascent, still indistinct and yet undeniable. We are just now getting the first photos of something we cannot dismiss as false and yet cannot as of yet easily interpret. It is. Let us, each and all of us, work towards explaining WHAT it is. Let us accept the various different explanations not as incontrovertible facts but as fingers that point toward the moon. A new paradigm is being born, let us embrace that. At the same time, let us not be hasty in trying to define it. But having said that, let me draw your attention to the fingers Caitlin and Russell are pointing, because their vision seems unusually acute and their willingness to point straight is quite rare in this age.

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