The one about Susan Sontag and simulated order

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🔍 Find the hope

Week three, or four (depending where you are), of this thing. How have you been? Still sane? I think I still am, but who knows, maybe I’ve now found comfort in my own insanity and call that ‘normal’. Or maybe this is like that feeling of relative peace you feel right before shit hits the fan (says my catastrophising mind). Either way, things are relatively stable on this end – as far as job, household, relationship and mind situations go – and I hope the same can be said about all of you. Hit me up if you need to talk.

The weird thing about all this *waves around* is that we are forced to entertain two conflicting thoughts at the same time without losing it. The reality that systems are failing, and the other reality that we need to find ways to carry on regardless. Of course, the same can be said about most uncertain situations, but it’s not that often that the uncertainty layers pile up on top of one another and you have a brutally complicated equation to solve. And equations remind me of 11th grade maths.

(Not liking maths was why I went into humanities. So now you know this about me.)

Things. Are. Chaotic.

There are no two ways about it.

And yet! Our minds seek order. Because that is how we process the world, no matter how fabricated that order might be. Some create a sense of order – or narrative – based on fatalism. Others on nihilism. Others based on debunking some conspiracy theory. Others around now being the time to tweet your heart out against politicians. Others around hope.

It is a question of framing our minds as a way to re-capture order, but I believe order can also be achieved through behaviour. Because behaviour, we now know, can be a more powerful first step in reframing our minds, before we even get to the attitudinal stuff. Susan Sontag, referencing Claude Lévi-Strauss, has a good metaphor for it:

“All behavior […] is a language, a vocabulary and grammar of order; anthropology proves nothing about human nature except the need for order itself. There is no universal truth about the relations between, say, religion and social structure. There are only models showing the variability of one in relation to the other.”

I like this idea of behaviour being a language, because language too exists to fight back against chaos (the chaos of lack of clear communication), and therefore it needs some sort of code, which means it needs some sort of learning to understand and translate the code. The same thing goes, I believe, with behaviour, because it is only after we start practising certain behaviours that they become encoded in our own bodies, and later our heads. It’s what we often refer to as “muscle memory”, or just… habits.

This is why I’ve become so adamant about embracing simple routines that, mundane as they might be, are nourishing and compose the language of my days. There is truth in the fact that if you make your bed every day, you are more likely to feel primed to keep everything else organised, and accounted for (one of the few things I can agree with Jordan Peterson on). My version of that is doing the dishes. Others go for a run. Others walk the dog. And of course, showering, dressing, trying to recreate normality and frequency and consistency as much as possible… all of that helps.

So today’s note of hope is around noticing our little behaviour quirks, and appreciating which ones are helping create some sort of order (fabricated as it may be), and which ones are undermining that order. The word ‘narrative’ has become way too politicised in the last decade, but the reality is narratives are pretty much all we have to cope with the weirdness of existence. They are not inherently good or bad, but a tool to be used.

It’s easy enough to say we just need to ‘keep positive’ in these rough times, but that is putting your attitudinal step forward before your behavioural one. So what if we tried the opposite? Which behavioural step can you put forward, something that you can do frequently, with minimal effort, over time, in order to later affect your attitude as well?

Stay safe – and sane. 😘

Rob

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