What follows was originally published in 1981. (You can tell from the sentence “Would it be worth getting an answering machine?” Yes, folks, not only was there a time when not everyone had a cell phone. People actually used to talk to each other on the phone rather than send a text message.) See the posts Something I wrote a long time ago and More thoughts from the past.
For the most part, the events of everyday life appear intelligible. We’re able to deal with almost any situation, no matter how inconvenient or confusing it may seem at first, in a manner that’s sufficient to satisfy our immediate interests. But since socially constructed worlds are inherently unstable, and our knowledge of everyday reality is essentially inadequate, anxiety is inevitable. We don’t experience anxiety as a problem of knowledge, however, but as a problem of who we are. We’re concerned about “me.” What will happen to me? What does this mean to me? What am I doing here? What will I do next?
“Who we are” is not only a matter of the externally obvious job, marriage, address, appearance, and acts of charity, but of the unseen life of the mind. What we think and feel depends on where the mind spends its time, as in “his mind is either in the clouds or the gutter” or “I can’t get it out of my mind.” We are what we think, that is, we are what occupies, invades, crosses, and rests on our minds in the course of a day. Read more
The sociology of knowledge – the idea that our ability to know the world is influenced by the social and cultural context in which we have conceptualized the world – was very appealing to me. I was already open to the idea that reality was not something I should take for granted. The sociology of knowledge provided me with another clue as to the nature of reality.
Social construction, at least as presented by Berger and Luckmann, is the application of the sociology of knowledge to everyday life, including how we come to have a sense of our selves. To say that something is socially constructed simply means that it’s not set in stone for eternity, but depends on shared social attitudes that prevail at a particular location in time and space. To say that normality or marriage, for example, are socially constructed means that being normal or placing a certain value on marriage is subject to change and thus open to question. Read more
Please see the previous post, where I explain that this is something I originally published in 1981. The chapter title, Present Shock, was probably meant to contrast with the idea of Future Shock, a book by Alvin Toffler that was quite popular in the 1970s.
As long as anxiety has an identifiable object we know what to worry about. We can locate our problem in a specific set of circumstances. We seize on all the evidence we can find and attempt to impose an interpretation. Because there is a focus for our thoughts, thinking is still organized and cohesive. But when anxiety becomes excessive, the particulars of the situation become unimportant. Anxiety itself becomes the problem. Under conditions of severe stress, the ability to process information breaks down. Knowledge appears inadequate and threatens to become useless. We cannot give meaning to a world whose contradictions, conflicts, and locked control room exceed the bounds of our limited reason. This lack of confidence in the order of the world is anxiety in its purest form, an awareness of the gap between the self and the world it has come to know and depend on. We sense there is something drastically wrong, but we’re unable to identify what it is. Threatened from all sides, unable to advance in any direction to confront the problem, we search for the name of the danger and for the security an unambiguous label would bring. Unable to make sense of our own reactions, such feelings can become unbearable. Fortunately it is the rare individual who feels this in its full oppressiveness, but in its milder forms this objectless, free-floating, chronic anxiety is the most common “neurosis” of our time. Read more
When I was eleven, I had what I later decided to call a “reality shock.” The world suddenly seemed unreal, as if I were having a dream. I remember going up the street to the home of a friend and standing with her in the backyard by the swing set. I kept asking her: Is this a dream?
Today psychiatrists call this derealization. Evidently it’s frequently accompanied by depersonalization, a sense of detachment from the self. But I wasn’t dissociating. I still knew who I was. I just couldn’t understand how the world could all of sudden become unreal. It was particularly difficult for me, I suspect, because none of the adults in my environment recognized or acknowledged I was experiencing something gone terribly wrong.
This altered state of mind, triggered by a profoundly disturbing event, lasted from early-afternoon until I fell asleep that night. I have no recollection of the next day. In retrospect, I thought of this experience as waking up from the daily dream of childhood into the reality of adult life. While the world resumed its quality of being real, there’s a sense in which my life was never the same. Read more
As I mentioned in the last post, it was my personal experience of healthism that motivated me to start a previous blog. When I now ask myself why I want to start a blog on the self, I find multiple motivations.
I decided to write a few initial posts where I talk about this. I’m admittedly not aware of all that motivates me, but I should at least be able to reveal some of the personal prejudices I bring to the subject matter. As it turned out, the idea of a “few initial posts” got a bit out of hand, and I now have 24 “introductory” posts. To help you locate what might be of interest, I’ve summarized those posts below.
The self-conscious blogger
Blogging makes me uncomfortable, but it’s a discomfort I find interesting. To blog – to participate in social media — is to be a self in a public space. This creates self-consciousness and stimulates reflection on self-presentation. It turns out what I needed to do to alleviate my self-conscious discomfort about blogging was to acknowledge that learning in public is the best way for me to learn new things. That doesn’t make it any more comfortable, but – I tell myself – it’s only a blog.
Learning in public
For me, writing is a way to pursue new interests and incorporate new knowledge – a type of active learning. As an ex-academic, however, am I willing to be seen learning in public — warts, insufficiencies, and all? After considerable initial hesitation, I’ve changed my mind about this. Read more