Dear Ethel, or What is to be Done? (Part Five)

Dear Ethel, or What is to be Done? (Part Five)

(Part One, Part Two, Part Three, Part Four.)


We have seen what we can do is constrained by what we are willing to do, which in turn is constrained by what we believe about the world; the way we formulate the problem determines the solution. We have seen that we lack a coherent world-view that would enable us to formulate the problem usefully. We have further seen that we face massive imminent change such that present institutions may well fail to survive, thus we are entitled to seek creative solutions which do not include them; and further, a coherent world-view of the near future may differ in significant ways from today’s incoherent world-view.

So we need a coherent world-view, one capable of adapting to the coming changes, to guide our sense of the problem, and solutions, and hence determine what we are willing to do, and finally what we can do.

Which brings us to “we”. Humans. In particular, the psychology of belief, and consciousness.


Our view of ourselves is part of our world-view. But, I suggest, our understanding of ourselves is poor.

About all humans can definitively claim we have proved is that we can believe almost anything whatsoever about the world. Each human seems to possess a unique system of thoughts and beliefs about the world filtered through their individual nervous system and experiences. Robert Anton Wilson calls this a “reality tunnel”.

Korzybski famously stated that “The Map is Not the Territory.” David Bohm puts it even more clearly:
“Every idea is a representation – an abstraction which leaves out most of reality.”

The same certainly seems to apply to beliefs.

We have seen we choose to believe in things which don’t exist, but we forget they don’t exist and come to think they are real. Products of our thought seem like real, independent features of reality. For instance, David Bohm observes that

“Lines between countries don’t exist either. They’ve been imagined by people. A fence or wall may eventually be put up, but it was put up by people who thought there was a line there. Thus there is a correspondence between one abstraction and another, which guides you. But it’s a correspondence of form, certain abstract forms, but not to reality – the reality itself escapes you.”

So why do we believe what we believe?

We have a sense of our identity – we believe we are our idea of ourselves – and we act to maintain this, becoming very uncomfortable when it is challenged. Our ideas about who we are are tied up in relation to our beliefs about society and the world. To challenge one is to challenge the other. So we resist changes to our beliefs because they challenge our sense of identity and reality; as a corollary, we resist changes to society and the world to the extent that they also challenge our sense of identity.

Most of what we believe is told to us by authority figures as we grow up. (Again, in RAW’s terms, we are imprinted with the local reality tunnel.) We can later test this against our own experiences, and to the extent that they seem useful and accurate, we keep them. One of the features of the modern age is the extent to which we are experiencing other models of reality as we encounter information from far flung corners of the world – the local reality tunnel comes under threat.

Remember, all ideas about the world are approximations and representations. They leave out most of what is there.

If our present world-view is inadequate – if our world is changing to the extent that our world-view is lacking – we can change our world-view to suit the actual circumstance we are in.

If our beliefs are inadequate, we can change them to something which is adequate.

How Do People Change Their Beliefs?

Lakoff concludes that people generally seem to ignore information which contradicts what they already believe to be true (which is quite similar to confirmation bias), which would indicate changing beliefs is not easy. However, we believe different things at different stages of our life, so obviously change can occur within us.

How does this work? People have deeply ingrained habits, of thought and behaviour, which are tough to change. One way of considering this is as habits being embedded in our neurochemistry, instantiated in physical patterns of chemical activity in our brains; pathways in the brain which grow larger the more they are used.

Anyone who has observed themselves honestly and made efforts to change themselves will be aware that we are not in control of ourselves and our behaviour the way we would like to believe. The view we have of ourselves is an intrinsic and vital part of our inadequate world-view. Our view of ourselves needs to change no less than our model of the external world before we have an adequate world-view.

The process of consciously challenging our beliefs and transforming ourselves is difficult. It takes time and effort but is possible. We first need to understand what our beliefs are, how we actually work, and then work out what is going on accurately and change our beliefs to more useful / better adapted ones. This process differs for each individual in that they are each in their own unique reality tunnel. While the overall pattern of the process is the same the details are different and no one else can do it for you. This, however, is what you can do.

If you want to make effective change in the world, sorting out your own shit is a vital part of the process. Human systems are the outcomes of human actions.

As our self-understanding grows, our world-view becomes more accurate, and our useful understanding of what we can do also grows.

Earlier I recommended everyone see V for Vendetta. This is because the process of transformation Evie undergoes in the movie (though not necessarily the specific means ;)) makes a conveniently timed and pretty good analog in a mass culture form for what we need to do: break down our ego and attachments, and wake up to our true nature, humanity and potential. This isn’t necessarily easy; however, the more of us who do it make it easier for others to walk the trail we blaze.

Writings on magic, consciousness change, mysticism and spirituality, and some philosophers contain most of the world’s accumulated wisdom on how to go about this process of transformation. (They also give a lot of practical advice on becoming more aware, accepting, flexible, effective, compassionate, strong, peaceful, happy, etc. These seem to be something we lost when we lost religion as a guiding component of our world-view, but they will be very useful in the times ahead, and we can bring them back into our lives on our own terms.)

So, this may go some way to explaining my response to the question “what can I do?”, which is that it is not my place to tell you the “answers”. I can only try, to whatever limited extent I am able, to help you discover the answers for yourselves; and, more importantly, to help you discover the questions which will lead to those answers, and enable you to be the change you want in the world. Hopefully some of those questions have been raised in these posts, and information given which will suggest useful questions.

No Responses to “Dear Ethel, or What is to be Done? (Part Five)”

  1.   ian
    April 20th, 2006 | 8:41 pm

    Coherence! yay 🙂 Good to see these ideas in text man.

    Popped through to that Foucault quote aswell. Very good. All this. Very good.

  2.   Administrator
    April 21st, 2006 | 1:12 am

    Cheers. It would probably be good to read the whole series of posts in a row, too, rather than spread out over a couple of weeks or so.

  3.   scarletmanuka
    April 24th, 2006 | 5:14 pm

    I think you’re reading into Evie’s character a little too much. I’ve seen it twice and all I got of it was that she stopped being a wuss. Even after she “lost her fear” she didn’t strike out against the fascist regime or anything. All she did was flick a switch that V left for her to flick, after all the bad guys had been killed. She acted with virtually no chance of reprisal.

    Have you read the graphic novel? I’m wondering if perhaps that gives us greater insight into the development of her character?

  4.   Administrator
    April 24th, 2006 | 5:25 pm

    I was using Evie as a convenient example rather than an exemplar, though I think there is more to it than you seemed to get from it; also, I thought people should see V for a bunch of reasons 🙂

    Her role and developmental arc in the graphic novel ends quite differently, yes. In terms of the objections you raise, I think you would be happer with the original.

  5.   Pearce
    April 24th, 2006 | 6:45 pm

    “I’ve seen it twice and all I got of it was that she stopped being a wuss.”

    … interesting.

    So if you were shaved, imprisoned, psychologically tortured and starved, and continually told that in order to be set free all you had to do was give up the name of one single person, and you refused to give up that name, the only laudatory label you would deserve is “not a wuss”?

    I bet you’d crack like an egg in that situation, kid.

  6.   The Scarlet Manuka
    April 25th, 2006 | 1:54 pm

    Well, Pierce, I’d counter that you don’t know me, but anyway.

    I thought someone might use that particular example. Yes, in that one instance, Evie did resist, but only that once. Personally, I thought it had more to do with protecting someone that was important to her than some sort of wide-ranging rebellion against the government.

    The fact remains that ultimately, the film V for Vendetta is just entertainment, not intended to be some sort of veiled inspiration to the masses. Probably the most you could take out of it is to be wary of the path we’re treading, ie. that we’re allowing our fear to take us somewhere even more frightening.

    I loved the film, it spoke directly to my paranoia, but jeez, it wasn’t that clever. Simply take the rise and peak of Nazism and put it 80 years further in the future.

  7.   Andrew
    April 26th, 2006 | 10:56 am

    yeah, I haven’t seen the film but this sounds like what I thought of the comic book – is the film that much better than it? Flatly, am I going to get out of it what’s being promised if I didn’t get that out of the book?

  8.   Administrator
    April 26th, 2006 | 12:53 pm

    scarlet: I think the movie is blatantly intended to be “veiled inspiration for the masses.” On the other hand, I approached the movie from within my worldview and beliefs, and thus fundamentally had a different experience to you (or anyone else). Your mileage may vary.

    andrew: the changes for film are interesting; mostly it involves subtly updating it to be a medium for talking about what is happening righty now, and simplifying the back story and generally adding movie moments; however, it’s sort of a best case scenario of an adaptation. However, what you get out of it is what you get out of it.

    generally: In V, Evie undergoes a process which causes her to come to a greater understanding of herself and her humanity, as a result of which changes her worldview, beliefs, and understanding of herself in relation to her society, and, more importantly, enables her to act on the basis of that. That is, I think, more than enough of an isomorphism between what I have argued in these posts and the movie to explain why I recommended it; however, my arguments stand without it, and if the movie hadn’t come out right then, it wouldn’t have come up. I have no wish for this to degenerate into petty argument about interpretations of a movie. If you want to argue here, argue with my logic and arguments.

  9.   Pearce
    April 26th, 2006 | 6:21 pm

    “Well, Pierce, I’d counter that you don’t know me, but anyway.”

    I was not saying “Viva la resistance” or “The masses will now gather in support of this action movie adapted from a comic book!” I was merely questioning your analysis of a character’s development in a movie.

    In the witch-hunts, people regularly gave in the names of people who they considered important to them while being tortured — their lovers, parents, grandparents, children, etc. Evie refused to give any information on someone who had none of these connections to her, someone who she in fact had attempted to escape from previously (the scene with the Bishop).

    If someone cracks under torture, it seems that by you they are a “wuss”. I’d wager that by this standard almost everyone is a “wuss” — including you, “Scarlet Manuka”. I hereby re-inforce my statement that if you were in her place, I’d put money on you cracking.

    I feel I can safely say this about anyone who’s rude enough to mis-spell my name when it appears quite clearly in the comment they are replying to. 😛