Tuesday, 13 July 2010

Creating Your Universe

Several months ago, I coined the term “hereotyping” to describe a process of using stereotypes as heroic models in order to influence your personal behaviour and aid in self-improvement.  A friend recommended I change the name to herotyping because it trips more easily off the tongue, and I agree.  This idea of modelling is well known in the area of Neuro-linguistic Programming (NLP) for affecting change; however this process can be traced at least back to Samuel Smiles’ 1859 book, Self Help.

All persons are more or less apt to learn through the eye rather than the ear; and, whatever is seen in fact, makes a far deeper impression than anything that is merely read or heard.  This is especially the case in early youth, when the eye is the chief inlet of knowledge.  Whatever children see they unconsciously imitate.  They insensibly come to resemble those who are about them—as insects take the colour of the leaves they feed on.  Hence the vast importance of domestic training.  For whatever may be the efficiency of schools, the examples set in our Homes must always be of vastly greater influence in forming the characters of our future men and women.  The Home is the crystal of society—the nucleus of national character; and from that source, be it pure or tainted, issue the habits, principles and maxims, which govern public as well as private life.  The nation comes from the nursery.  Public opinion itself is for the most part the outgrowth of the home; and the best philanthropy comes from the fireside.  "To love the little platoon we belong to in society," says Burke, "is the germ of all public affections."  From this little central spot, the human sympathies may extend in an ever widening circle, until the world is embraced; for, though true philanthropy, like charity, begins at home, assuredly it does not end there.

It was once common to judge a person by their family.  There is an adage that a man must look to his girlfriend’s mother to see what his potential wife will become, and likewise there is the woman’s horror in middle-age when she discovers when she has become her mother.

So much of our mental programs derive from an unconscious imitation of our parents.  Using the human mind as analogous to a computer, we might say that evolutionary psychology is the pre-installed operating system, and family influence is the updates.  From there, the computer is programmed through experience.

In the television series Farscape, a character is duplicated into two individuals with the same memories, thoughts, feelings, biology, and programming.  The two are separated by circumstance and throughout the series they become two different people due to their different experiences. 

We are not our minds and we are not our hearts.  What makes us is our will.  How we choose to act in response to our experiences which then moulds us and drives us into new experiences which start the process all over again.

In legend, the Irish hero Cuchulain once cheated on his wife, Emer, and all hell broke loose as a consequence.  Our hero fled into the wilderness in a state of madness while his wife fell into a deep depression.  A druid concocted a potion that erased all memory of the events from Emer’s mind, Cuchulain recovered, and all ended well for the couple.  Sounds nice, but that is not how it works.

There is a story of a psychologist who was working with a woman with short-term memory loss.  Every day he had to reintroduce himself to her afresh.  Then one day he decided to try a little experiment.  He lodged a pin between his fingers so that when they shook hands in their daily first meeting ritual she received a little stab.  The following day, she did not remember him, but she declined to shake his hand for the very first time.

Experiences, especially painful ones, affect us on a very deep psychological level even when the cause has been completely forgotten.  It is these forgotten experiences that make us who we are.  They drive us towards those things we unconsciously deem positive and to avoid those we deem negative.  Sometimes we may be exactly aware of what experiences are driving us, but find ourselves incapable of acting outwith our emotional conditioning.

The core premise of the Romantic is that man possesses free will, but in light of this information free will seems almost irrelevant.  It is as though we are tossed from wave to wave in a stormy sea driven by unconscious programs that cannot be controlled.

We may not be able to control the programs that we are running and pushing us through life.  We cannot undo the past that made us, even though all that remains of that past are thoughts no more real than any other fantasy.  But we can take control of the process and make new programs, new programs that make the old ones obsolete and eventually become disconnected from the mainframe.

Suppose you have a fear of escalators due to some forgotten accident in your childhood.  The solution is to ride and escalator over and over and over until the new programming gets into your psycho-emotional system and becomes fixed.  Suppose you have a fear of spiders.  The course of treatment is to start with simulated spiders, like images and rubber spiders, and then gradually work your way towards the real thing until you are comfortable.

The most difficult question is what do you want to be.  Notice I’m writing what you want to be and not who do you want to be.  By saying “who you want to be” implies becoming someone else as though the starting point is flawed.  This way of thinking undermines the transformation before it even gets started by creating a sense of low self-worth and esteem.

Herotyping is not about becoming a specific individual.  You cannot become someone else.  It is about becoming a type of individual.  Suppose a man wants to become a police officer.  In doing so he undergoes training and has experiences that change him into a cop.  He becomes a generalized what and not a specific who.

The second episode of season one of True Blood was on television the other day.  There is the scene when Bill recognises Soukie is not fully human and asks her what she is.  She says, “I’m a waitress”.  We define ourselves by what we think we are more than who we think we are.  These labels we slap on ourselves tells us and others what we are and influences our behaviour as we strive to behave according to type.
We have all sorts of labels: some domestic (like husband, wife, father, mother), others occupational, (lawyer, doctor, salesman), some vocational (writer, painter, actor), some political/economic (Republican, Democrat, Labour, Tory, Capitalist, Socialist), some religious or philosophical (Christian, Jew, Objectivist), some nationalist (Scottish, English, British, American).  For each of us we have an idea of what this label means and what we expect a person with this label is to be like.

I was once attacked on a bus by five guys.  When I called my sister in Los Angeles the first words out of her mouth were, “You didn’t back down did you?”  Of course I didn’t.  Why?  Because I’m an American, and we don’t back down from bullies no matter the odds against us.  That is my label and my programming.  Certainly not all Americans have that attitude, but that is the image we feel we must live-up to, at least out West where I’m from.  So maybe it’s a cowboy thing.

From my experience, people do not like being labelled, either by themselves or by others.  This is because labels generally go on boxes and people do not like to be boxed into a stereotype.  And yet we expect a father to be a father, we expect a bus driver to act like a bus driver, we expect Christians to be Christians, and even political parties to act in keeping with a political ideology.  We expect the label and the contents to match in others, but refuse it in ourselves because we do not want to be misjudged or prejudiced against.

Technically, I am not a capitalist.  A capitalist is a person who invests capital in an enterprise with expectation of a return on their investment for the purpose of profit.  I do not invest, so I am not a capitalist.  However, I do believe in the free market system.  I have studied it enough so that I can confidently slap the label “capitalist” among the others on my box.

However, there are others who have not studied it beyond propaganda and they have been socially conditioned to see capitalism as a negative.  Capitalism for them is selfish, greedy, and puts profit before people.  Who wants to label themselves with something like that?

There is another type of label that I have not mentioned.  It is based upon a person’s primary cultural consumption as is usually prevalent in the young.  I’m referring to the subculture label, such as Goths, Punks, Rockers, Mods, Steampunks, Hippies, etc.  I hate to say it but the only one of these with any merit is the hippies, solely because they have a complimentary philosophy.  The others are nothing more than common interests or aesthetics reinforced within a peer group, which may or may not be completely disconnected from their philosophy.

Just as a person may have a negative image of the “capitalist” derived from faulty or limited information, so too do many people have a negative image of Goths, for example.  To avoid being wrongly and negatively stereotyped, a person may seek to denounce or avoid any such labelling.  This is particular relevant when you witness someone using one of your labels and expressing things that you whole-heartedly disagree with, or just being a horrible person.  You want to avoid any association with that person and people you deem to be like them.

Thus far I have mentioned labels based on domestic roles, occupations, vocations, political positions, religion, philosophy,nationality/culture, and subculture.  There are other labels we use for ourselves and others that are a little more subjective that apply to more personal qualities.  Things like: beautiful, charming, ugly, brave, arrogant, rude, and on and on.

If I were to ask you, “Are you a good person?”  And you said yes, then you have just labelled yourself.  If I followed-up by asking “What makes you a good person?”  Then you would give evidence according to your notion of what constitutes “good” as per your programming.  Suppose you do not see yourself as good but wanted to be good.  Then this is where herotyping comes into the picture.

Of course you can replace the label “good” with any label you want.  If you want to be a cop, then what makes a cop?  If you want to be a Christian, then what makes a Christian?  If you want to be a Goth, or if you want to be charming, or a Republican, or a father, or an artist, or whatever label you want, you first have to ask yourself what constitutes these things.  What defines the label?

So you begin with deciding the labels you want and defining those labels.  Let’s say you want to become a police officer and the meaning you give to that label is a guy who kicks-ass.  Then you go out and meet police officers, people who have that label, only to discover that what they do is community involvement and diplomacy with very little kicking ass involved.  Then perhaps you need to redefine your label.

Now let’s suppose that what you want to be is a police officer.  With that role come a host of new learning, experiences, responsibilities, behaviours, and peer influences that will alter your programming.  Are all police officers the same?  Of course not.  Because being a cop is what they are and not who they are, even though they may share some common traits due to the job.

Beyond being a police officer, you also endeavour to be a good one.  Here you have to decide what makes a good cop.  Every officer has their own idea of what makes a good cop.  Here is where people differ within the box.  Part of being a good cop is surrounding your self with examples of real or fictional “good” cops as models for your behaviour.  Choose your influences.

A positive exercise is to complete an internet profile on a social networking or dating site.  The whole process is one of labelling yourself with all those little stickers.  When you are finished, try to see it objectively and then ask yourself if you like the person indicated by the labels.  Are you what you want to be?  If not, then what do you want to be?

We are what we do repeatedly; however what we do is the result of what we think we are.  The way to change what we think we are is to act differently.  This is not always easy.  Like the cure to phobias I mentioned early, the solution is simulation.

Like the simulated spider, either a rubber one or an imagined one, or one in pictures or films, we simulate the necessary behaviours to recondition the mind.  The emotions cannot tell the difference between the real and the imagined, so we can replicate the experience before introducing the real one.  So you can imagine being a cop, surround yourself with images of police officers, watch realistic police dramas, play cop-based video games all to condition your mind towards being a cop.  Then gradually introduce the real thing.

A more realistic example is for guys who want to be more confident with women.  The exercise is to imagine the successful pick-up and role play with a woman you do not know.  Once you are confident, then you move into real world with the intent not to pull but to practice.  This allows for mistakes since there is no end goal save the experience.  Finally, when confident on that level, you begin acting with intent.  It is a process of reconditioning and reprogramming to become a person who can accurately label themselves as a lady’s man or player, if that is what you want.
Clothes maketh the man.  A friend of mine recently completed university and voiced an eagerness to change his image which had been predominantly tweed.  I would argue that the tweed may have improved his academic performance.  The tweed jacket is often associated with academics.  Wearing tweed may have made him feel more intelligent and therefore improved his grades, but also other people may have treated him as an intellectual because of it, thus reinforcing the label “intelligent academic”.

It may be illegal to dress like a cop when you are not one, but I’m sure that academy graduates first truly feel like a police officer when they put on their uniform for the first time.  Feeling the role is a key aspect of becoming the role.  You are essentially dressing like the group that you choose to be labelled with.

I love my clothing style, but could I still call myself a Romantic if I did not dress according to my idea of a Romantic?  Would I be taken seriously, according to my label of “Romantic philosopher and activist”, if I wore jeans and a t-shirt?  Somehow I doubt it.  Let’s suppose I only dressed in my style on certain occasions.  How could I possibly preach Romanticism as a style of life if I take it off and put it on according to circumstance?  I think people would accept it because they are accustomed to people playing dress-up, but I would view it as a measurable lapse of integrity.

The thing about wearing Victorian clothes on a daily basis is the prolonged affect it has on you.  First off, you do not wear the clothes, the clothes wear you.  Walking down the street I feel the restraints of the braces, the pressure on my lower back from the high-backed trousers, and the shape of the frock coat forces my shoulders into place.  All this improves the posture and engenders confidence.  When I catch a fleeting glimpse of myself in a shop window I see one of my heroes from the films, and when I watch those films I see characters wearing what I wear everyday, making the world of the film a world I feel connected with, rather than something alien or foreign.  The veil between art and life is thinner.

Just as the uniform makes the cop feel like a cop, or the suit makes a businessman feel like a businessman, so too do my clothes make me feel attuned to my chosen labels and your clothes make you feel attuned to yours.

Everything I am outlining here is by no means a stretch for anyone.  We naturally gravitate towards clothes, music, films, television, friends, occupations, and activities that reinforce what we believe ourselves to be or want to become.  These are the things that make us what we are, but sometimes we want more, and when that is the case it is time to take conscious control of our programming.  This means conditioning yourself to new aesthetic consumptions, new friends/peers, new heroes, new activities and, more importantly, new experiences to reinforce new programs.

My father use to read these cheap Louis L’Amour Western novels.  His idea of a night-out was sitting in his pick-up truck, listening to the country music station and his CB radio, drinking a bottle of cheap red wine, and smoking cigarettes.  Come morning he was up at the crack of dawn, ate his soft boiled eggs, fed the horses, drove an hour into Hollywood to work shipping pharmaceuticals, and then repeat the evening ritual.  He did this for years.

I never labelled myself a cowboy, but thinking back I guess you might see my dad as that sort and I certainly see my father in me.  Those early programs are still buzzing through my unconscious.  The “cowboy” values of self-reliance, courage, and independence are hardwired.  He also had that down-home, salt of the earth kind of practical wisdom that makes fools of academics.

I remember once he and I got into a debate over the proposed cigarette tax in California, probably the first “sin” tax.  My father, who was a Democrat, said, “You cannot tax one group of people and not another.”  I foolishly disagreed and of course the legislation passed, thus paving the way for governments to use taxation as a means of social control.  He was right, but then he was right about most things and he certainly did not need a university education for it.

When I was young I disagreed with my father, but now I seem to measure myself by idea of him.  The first label a young man adopts is the label “man” and that means is what our fathers program into us.  I can only guess that the same holds true of daughters and mothers, but I confess my ignorance on that count.

I just finished watching the film McLintock, which can be found full and complete on Youtube.  The film is a sort of western version of The Taming of the Shrew starring John Wayne in a sort of battle of the sexes that can be read as a lesson on how to be a man.  Films like this taught and reinforced these concepts to men of my father’s generation, so I have to conclude that it cannot do me any harm to add it to my list of herotypes.  Among the brilliant lines is, “Before you can be a gentleman, you first have to be a man.”  How true and how forgotten a concept that is.

As for you, my dear reader, you have to find your own path.  No one can decide what clothes, films, books, music, heroes, or peers will help you become what you want to become.  That is up to you.  Know what you want to become, define it, and then create your own unique pocket universe to support you in becoming what you want and achieving what you want.