Adam Blatner

Words and Images from the Mind of Adam Blatner

Our State of Understanding

Originally posted on June 25, 2015

I read this line somewhere: “It is therefore crucial for any professional to under-stand how and why we behave and interact with others the way we do.” In my opinion this considerably overstates the situation. The above-quoted line was perhaps part of the worldview in the 20th century, but now in the 21st century information has quite thoroughly surpassed our capacity to understand. I will concede that we do indeed understand behavior, but only to a limited degree. We understand significantly more than a century ago, but I think very little relative to what remains to be understood.

The question of how much we know or understand was hardly asked before the 19th century, and then only in terms of whether we were godly or not, according to the religious standards of the community. Non-godly thoughts were the temptations of the devil and the weakness of the flesh. Something like that. There were a few reflective souls in the previous centuries, but really very few people read or thought about them. We get an over-representation of responses from those who both read and wrote and forget what a small percentage of the population that was.

But my point speaks to the state of knowledge today, even, and it speaks from the authority of a Board-Certified Psychiatrists. I speak of, first, our ignorance as to why people lose it, go off the deep end, become psychotically manic, depressed, paranoid, etc. We know a few things about chemicals, infections, and the like, but there’s so very, very much we don’t know.

Second, addressing non-psychosis, there are those with what used to be called “character” disorders. There are the very fearful and obsessive, and the seemingly fearless and psychopathic. There are the dumb ones who get caught and go to jail and the smart ones who get themselves elected or promoted and rip off the rest of us. Most people are in the middle and often there’s some mixture of folly, phony societal standards, propaganda, uncritical thinking and gullibility, and the general lack of much advance in the evolution of consciousness. Sure, we’ve evolved, but by a whole lot less than we think we have. As a whole, it’s a pretty savage society made up of tyrannical rules and people who know how to work the system, inherited wealth, people struggling to work but not succeeding very much, and losers. It’s also controversial who and what are in which group.

The definitions of how and why we behave are often couched around fairly limited syndromes among those who judge themselves or adjudged by others to be problematic. Meanwhile, it’s taboo to suggest that a major reason people behave as they do is that they believe what is evidently and not-too-apparently untrue about their status. He’s a success, she’s a loser. The criteria are often superficial and phony.

So much of what we “understand” is an expression of community values. Homosexuality was a form of psychopathology fifty years ago. I keep noticing little quirks that well may be symptoms of higher wisdom, spiritual enlightenment, hints of what may be ultimately healthy, except for the fact that we’re not ready for it. Our going along with what some diagnose as a grossly inequitable socio-economic system makes it hard to think clearly. If it is grossly inequitable or in other ways not ideal, how would we know it? If we don’t know how to rectify it without violence, and we abhor violence, then what?

There are so many kinds of micro-oppression. More, I suspect that attitudes aimed at forcing change will backfire, or at least generate surreptitious crime-infiltrated patterns. In summary, then, let’s at least admit our ignorance and the magnitude of the challenge.

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