Log in

Previous Entry | Next Entry

The Fnords Are Strong

Everyone who has read "The Illuminatus Trilogy" knows about the fnords. Wikipedia explains this far better than I can:

    In these novels, the interjection "fnord" is given hypnotic power over the unenlightened. Under the Illuminati program, children in grade school are taught to be unable to consciously see the word "fnord". For the rest of their lives, every appearance of the word subconsciously generates a feeling of uneasiness and confusion, and prevents rational consideration of the subject. This results in a perpetual low-grade state of fear in the populace. The government acts on the premise that a fearful populace keeps them in power.

Lately, I feel as if the fnords must be strong and well-used. Because even a glance at the news (which is constantly on the TV, muted, where I work) brings me into a state of upset and agitation. This sucks, because if you know me, you know I thrive on reading about certain kinds of current events, especially those having to do with religion and cults, equal rights, and "News of the Weird" type things. But, I also like to be generally conversant in what the hell is going on in the world, even though I will be the first to admit there's a lot of shit, especially about politics and economics, that I don't understand. It is the duty of a denizen of this planet to participate by not choosing to be ignorant of the hard truths of the world. To choose to be ignorant, to choose to turn away from any news, no matter how bleak, is a crime of the soul -- one in which you are basically saying to the world, "My peace of mind is more important than this terrible thing which is occurring to other living beings".

Unfortunately, it has come to the point where this is literally damaging me. It leads me to abysmal moods and dark melancholy, wherein I brood and stew over the world's dilemmas, the nature of man's inhumanity to man, and the ultimate unworthiness for 99% of us to exist.

My former therapist recommended I just stop watching the news. That's...not so easy in this day and age. You can't read facebook or livejournal without being bombarded by links filled with horrors and crimes and hate and corruption. Well, then, perhaps I should stay away from social media, and reddit, and never watch television. But, how can I do that? To sever these things is to sever one's connection to friends and family, these days. I might become less existentially depressed, but then I'd have no friends, and loneliness would put me right back into that inky abyss.

(As an aside, I can't see this therapist anymore. Because she did some things I consider immoral. But, that's a different entry. Nonetheless, her actions just again re-confirm my beliefs that most people are not worth the amazing gift of existence.)

Steven and I got into an argument about my media consumption habits, even. "Stop reading sad things! That's why you're always sad. You already know people are nasty, ignorant, hateful, bigots, so why do you keep going back to confirm this?" I tried to explain, but it didn't come across as even vaguely coherent, because as eloquent as I might attempt to be on the internet, in RL, I am hard-pressed to string together simple sentences half the time. "Well, at the very least, quit sending these links to me. I already know how idiotic everyone is. And I don't need to be reminded constantly."

So, I don't know what to do about this whole "News Ennui". Surely it's a First World Problem, and not something someone living in Afghanistan would even deign to consider as a "problem". But, the stress is strong. My doctor prescribed klonopin after several panic attacks and breakdowns. Is that really the answer? Shouldn't the answer be that this SHOULD make us upset and stressed out? Because the shit that's happening is fucking terrifying! But, how can I continue my day to day life feeling like the next chunk of data might have me bursting into tears?

The only thing you can do is to turn away. To say, "That shit's not my problem. I don't want to know." That one phrase, "I don't want to know", is the one which leads to ignorance. And how can anyone who embraces ignorance claim to be seeking an enlightened nature for themselves?

It's a damn puzzle. A real damn puzzle. And I just don't know. But, every day the fnords get stronger. And every day, my walls get sanded just a little thinner.


( 26 comments — Leave a comment )
Aug. 2nd, 2011 07:11 pm (UTC)
I find baby zoo animals to be a great paliative (and I'm only half joking). You can also try to choose your news sources more carefully (there are some with more positive emphases or, at least, are solidly biased in your favor).

I'd also argue that there's a difference between not wanting to know and not wanting to be inundated with negativity and information overload. I get most of my political news from Daily Kos, but while keeping an eye on what's actually happening, I have taken a break recently from indepth coverage of the entire deficit matter simply because it's so depressing. Skimming headlines rather than clicking on links. I know what's going on, but, temporarily, I don't feel the need to _immerse_ myself in what's going on.

...and I've rambled long enough. But seriously: baby zoo animals. Good stuff.
Aug. 3rd, 2011 11:02 pm (UTC)
I agree about the baby zoo animals. Although, they need not be babies, really. Animals in general seem to somehow relieve this tension. I'd say this was why we'd domesticated the cat if I didn't know that they were good mousers.
Aug. 3rd, 2011 11:06 pm (UTC)
You think _we_ domesticated _cats_? This leads me to question the extent of your previous cat experience. Seriously. :-P

Baby Zoo Animals are especially palliative because each one is a symbol of something Done Right. Each birth improves the world and helps, if only infintessimally, back humanity away from one of the many brinks we've found ourselves at.

...and, of course, the vast majority of them are cute as buttons too.
Aug. 4th, 2011 05:53 pm (UTC)
Oh, so true about the cats. So very true.
Aug. 3rd, 2011 11:02 pm (UTC)
And yeah. The whole deficit thing is too depressing. That's pretty much what inspired this post.
Aug. 2nd, 2011 07:26 pm (UTC)
I suspect I'll ramble and probably not make much sense, but I feel I want to respond.

I, too, am horrified and disgusted almost daily by the intolerable cruelty of humankind to those weaker than themselves, be they human or other species. I've said more than once in the last few years, "The world really can't end soon enough."

Then amidst all the oppressive horrors mankind visits upon our world and its inhabitants, I will see something that warms my heart for a moment. A spark of goodness or kindness or joy will for a moment strike a match in the darkness and somehow keep my heart from losing another chunk of itself.

I wish I had answers or even that I could give you a hug and tell you that there's enough goodness in the world to make it worthwhile. I do believe there is. There is also an incredible amount of evil and perhaps arguably worse, indifference.

It's as trite as it possibly could be, but what I can do is to try to light a match in my little corner of the darkness when I can. It doesn't change the world, but it may just possibly keep one person from losing the last bit of heart and hope s/he had left.

As a recovering addict, I was told that denial served a healthy purpose in life when the balance wasn't tipped too far in favor of it. It protects us from that which is too much to bear. When it goes unchecked, it can become so strong that it damages our ability to see reality, which is what generally happens with addicts. Somewhere there is a happy medium.

I hope your walls re-strengthen and thicken a bit and that your heart remains soft and caring within their safety. We have never met, but I love you. Be kind to others and to yourself. Be what light you can in the darkness and know that it matters.
Aug. 3rd, 2011 11:06 pm (UTC)
It's true, there ARE heartwarming, wonderful things. My therapist, during the same conversation, said, "Good things happen all the time. There are birthdays and charity projects and people who help stranded motorists. These things just aren't reported in the news." I -KNOW- this to be true, and yet, when you watch or read the news, you can't help but feel that it is insignificant as compared to the overwhelming deluge of BAD.

Steven said to me, "You do not owe the world your attention at the cost of your sanity." I do think he's probably right, but the rules are all whacky when it's the world that's insane to begin with.

*shake head* I just don't know.
Aug. 2nd, 2011 07:37 pm (UTC)
I like trolling the local paper oped pages. This is cheap thrill stuff but what acqay to make lemonaid out of lemons.
Aug. 3rd, 2011 11:09 pm (UTC)
That tends to make it worse...for me, anyway. But, I definitely head there when I need to be enraged like an anthill hit by a cold stream from a water gun.
Aug. 2nd, 2011 07:38 pm (UTC)
I gripe about this to my friends all the time.
(also, I love the illuminatus trilogy)

I keep telling myself that, despite how much I hate willful ignorance, for the sake of happiness, I'm going to ignore the news.

Then I don't.

I've thought about this subject long and hard, and I have no solutions yet, only current hypotheses, and methods on my "next to attempt" list.

Fixing things is tricky because nobody ever wants to be the first one to buck the trend. Money and jobs depend on it. In the I.T. industry, the mantra was "Nobody ever got fired for choosing IBM". In the cynical entertainment industry it has been warped into "Nobody ever got fired for underestimating the American public"

The business practice of "This makes us the most money, it is the only thing worthy of our attention" is a bad idea and is not sustainable. It has led to our "bad news 24/7 journalism" and reality shows.

It'd be like a store that only sold bacon, meat, cheese, liquor and porn. Sure, it'd do well, people would stop in, they'd sell lots of souvenirs, but in the long run, no matter how much the anti-healthy eating people protest and say otherwise, they want something else.

The only realistic solution I can even think of right now is to use the nervous energy that the news creates into creating something else. Turn that passive consumption into a kinetic outpouring. If I had to make a cheesy greeting card saying out of it, it would be " If the world is too dark, make another lightbulb. "
Aug. 3rd, 2011 11:14 pm (UTC)
Re: I gripe about this to my friends all the time.
I've been trying out "newsless times". A couple hours here, a weekend there. But, then when I go back to see what has happened in the interim, I'm usually overwhelmed. "How can all of this go down in just X hours?"

I blame the internet, largely. Years ago, before radio and TV, we had no way of really knowing the terrible things being done to and by people who didn't live in our immediate vicinity.

I like your saying about the lightbulb. I will have to keep it in the short file of wise things I've heard recently.
Aug. 2nd, 2011 07:53 pm (UTC)
your brain was designed to only have 20-30 peers with whom to empathize. But thanks to the magic of television you can have as many peers with whom to empathize as you want.
Empathizing with all the people who are suffering in the news is simply too much for the brain, it must either become inured or overwhelmed.
A little ignorance, like many things, can be a good thing.
"Everything in moderation, including moderation."

If you seek a truly enlightened nature, you must divest yourself of your attachment to your outrage and/or sadness. It neither should nor should not make you outraged. It is. You are. that's it.
(this commentator is NOT a licensed or practicing anything, heed at your own risk)
Aug. 3rd, 2011 11:20 pm (UTC)
That is a good, and very Buddhist, outlook. And it's truly what I always try to approach these things with. For a long time, I thought I was doing a good job of it -- observing passively, noting, knowing, letting the world's sadness pass through me but not take up residence in me. It tore me down so subtly that I didn't even know it was happening until I found myself sobbing every day, at practically every article.

But, you may have a good idea. Meditation might be the exact salve for this particular ailment. Meditation followed by positive actions in the world in an attempt to change only what I can. Hmmm, a good idea indeed.
Aug. 2nd, 2011 08:18 pm (UTC)
Perhaps you can try to do something small to help counteract all the horrible things people do to each other. There are horrors going on all over the world but it can help sometimes to find your starfish.

You know the story of the star thrower, something like this:

"There was a man who was walking along a sandy beach where thousands of starfish had been washed up on the shore after a storm. He noticed a boy picking the starfish one by one and throwing them back into the ocean. The man observed the boy for a few minutes and then asked what he was doing. The boy replied that he was returning the starfish to the sea, otherwise they would die. The man asked how saving a few, when so many were doomed, would make any difference whatsoever? The boy picked up a starfish and threw it back into the ocean and said "Made a difference to that one..."

Find some place to volunteer, some person you can help, even just one or a few and sometimes saving that one starfish can help you find the goodness that also exists in this crazy world.
Aug. 3rd, 2011 11:24 pm (UTC)
I do volunteer as an Aggie Ally...but maybe there is something else I can do. I've always thought that the best thing I have to give to the world is what I write. But, that is probably remote and not as immediately satisfying as planting a few trees or helping to build a women's shelter would be.

That's a great story, btw.
Aug. 2nd, 2011 09:32 pm (UTC)
I think there are other responses besides "I don't want to know," such as "That's not my responsibility", or "I care but I can't change that."
Aug. 3rd, 2011 11:39 pm (UTC)
Ah, but it IS my responsibility. Because if I say, "That's not my responsibility", and everyone around me says, "That's not my responsibility", then eventually nobody has taken responsibility for it. I'm afraid I can't get behind that mindset.

Just by caring to know a piece of data...say, a brief outline of the politics and atrocities in Afghanistan over the past 50 years, I have already changed something - myself. No, I can't change the past for them, but by understanding more fully what led to certain events, I have already changed the way I would react to an Afghani person. It requires me to care because caring changes -me-. Anyway, the fact that I can not change it does not alleviate the sorrow that I will feel upon learning it.

Perhaps these tactics work for others -- and I am glad for them. There are also people who are consoled by the idea of god. I wish I could take refuge in any of these things...even religion. But I can't. Because it is not true for me, and therefore...useless as a salve.
Aug. 3rd, 2011 12:18 am (UTC)
Really well said. I haven't thought about the fnords in a long time, but I did recently make a conscious effort to stop reading political coverage to decrease my ambient stress levels. It's hard to square the desire to know everything about what's going on in the world with the realization that much of it us cruel and terrible. It's also hard to give up when you're using outrage as fuel, which is powerful stuff, but corrosive.
Aug. 3rd, 2011 11:41 pm (UTC)
You hit the matter exactly on the nose.

I also recall that I was a LOT less stressed out when I didn't own a television. Not that I watch it much now, but not having it showed me how even a single source of input can contribute to the level of stress in your life.
Aug. 3rd, 2011 04:02 pm (UTC)
Well, I disagree with the premise that "To turn away from news is a crime of the soul". There are a good many things that happen that I can have no impact on, and knowing about them or not does not change their existence. So I choose to focus on my locality and those I can impact and reach, and ignore the details on the larger picture. In general, my soul rests easy with my choice.
Aug. 4th, 2011 12:10 am (UTC)
Knowing about them does not change their existence. But it does change -my- existence, and how I approach the world. Basically what I said to mrgansle above applies here.

I agree that one should change what is within one's reach. I never said or implied otherwise. In fact, I wholeheartedly believe that one of the few things, if not the SOLE thing we can change in this world is ourselves. But, what we can change is different from what we can know and understand. I can't agree that ignoring the details or sorrows of the larger picture will help most any situation.

Let me put it this way: If a neighbor you didn't even know died, and you saw them being wheeled out in a body bag -- there is nothing that you can do about this. It's done. You didn't kill them. You are without blame in this situation.

But the person who goes over and finds out that she committed suicide, who finds out the intimate details and little sorrows of her life, and allow themselves to be moved by this wasted life. They're the ones that are going to be some small percentage more alert for signs of impending suicide in others.
Aug. 4th, 2011 07:04 am (UTC)
There is an unlimited amount of things to learn and experience. You can't possibly do it all. My point is, failing to learn every detail of every current event is not a "crime of the soul" any more than failing to learn every fact about every subject is a "crime of the mind". So again, I reject the notion that to turn away from *any* information is an evil or unworthy act. If it isn't, then we damage our soul every moment as a million things happen that we never know. A child sang a song just now for the first time. A man hurt someone he loved because of his mental illness. A woman stole from someone who trusted her. It all just happened, just now, and 6 billion things more as each person on our planet lives their lives.
To turn it all out is to destroy your soul and become focused on nothing but yourself, sure. To let it all in makes you focused on everything but yourself, and your soul suffers just as much. You recognize your own need to protect yourself from the overwhelmingness of things at times - but you call it a weakness, something to be fought against. I disagree. I consider it a necessary limitation we have. A boundary, perhaps - one we stretch from time to time, to help us grow, but cannot disregard completely, lest we collapse.

Side note: Your example...sadly accurate. Earlier this year, a neighbor I didn't even know died. The ambulance was in front of the house as we came home. I took the kids inside so Christina could go ask those outside what had happened...and the man of the house had succumbed to depression and committed suicide.
Aug. 4th, 2011 05:45 pm (UTC)
It's true that one can not know all things. That's obvious, and not really the problem here. But, the inability to process the lives and circumstances of 6 billion people is different than seeing a news headline on Facebook and saying to myself, "I know this is going to be sad, so I'm not going to read it BECAUSE I DON'T WANT TO BE SAD, even though the issue is vitally important in the world today." That's turning away.

Is this ruining my sanity? Probably. Would it be safer and more comfortable for me to stop reading these horrible things? Hell yes. Do I feel like a traitor to my own ethics when I do so? Without a doubt.

Because the world is insane. And wrong. And fucked right the hell up. And we've all installed coping mechanisms and say they're healthy, they protect us. But blinders are blinders, as far as I can tell. Today they protect the horse from seeing the snake that will cause it to freak out and crash the carriage, but tomorrow they keep the horse from seeing the oncoming Model-T it could have avoided.
Aug. 4th, 2011 05:51 pm (UTC)
Separately, I wanted to say that I am sorry to hear about your neighbor. I've been hearing more and more reports of this sort of thing happening, but with the increasing rate of news travel, I have no idea if that means it is more frequent or just more talked-about. I feel bad about not knowing my neighbors personally. I've tried to get to know some of them, but I often get a sort of look of distrust or even annoyance. I tell myself it's the purple hair and face piercings, but maybe it's just that nobody wants to be involved with their neighborhood anymore.
Aug. 5th, 2011 04:48 am (UTC)
from the Existentialism-Questions-Dept.
(so THAT'S why you tried out the Cam -- voluntary existentialism)

Just think of all the horrific things that are going on around you all the time. Just think of all the animal stillbirths. The roadkill. The many animals who get eaten alive. Who suffer from disease. Who get injured. Who get abandoned. Who get burnt, electrocuted, poisoned. All this horror and suffering, going on all the time.

And yet how does it affect you?

Where do any feelings and thoughts on this come from? Where does the meaning come from?

Perhaps you should indeed learn some meditation or even something like Buddhism, so you can learn more aboot yourself, how you work and such? -:) It'll take time and effort
( 26 comments — Leave a comment )