Tuesday, October 13, 2015

The personal is...

political. You can get a feel for the history of that statement here.

Below is a quote that is related to that interesting and brief saying. It references a core component of psychodynamic psychotherapy (other psychotherapeutic approaches utilize this process of making the mysterious become known too). But...it isn't written by a psychotherapist.

Psychotherapy is usually thought of as a very personal sort of endeavor...and yet...another way to think about it is that since it deals with feelings/emotions/perceptions...each of those aspects of a living being can also be considered to be political since they are influenced (almost totally) by our perspectives and our perspectives are profoundly intertwined with...you guessed it... the political elements of our living situation.
"When some experience causes us to question our firmest beliefs about the world, there is a domino-like effect which can change our entire perspective both on who and what we are....Such chains of questioning, such probing of our assumptions, are elementary examples of a process Paulo Freire calls conscientization. Critical theorists often name the state of mind that is nurtured by this process "critical consciousness". Critical consciousness is the mental habit of asking ourselves what assumptions are guiding our actions; why we believe what we believe; who gains and who loses from the assumptions we endorse; whether things might be otherwise, and possibly better; and how we might effect change if we think it desirable."          p. 122-123 Finding Freedom in the Classroom: A Practical Introduction to Critical Theory, Patricia Hinchey, 1998.
Psychotherapy often focuses on discovering assumptions about the world and about ourselves and their origins because, in the illumination of those dearly held beliefs, differing courses of action, different experiences as well as viewpoints about ourselves and others automatically present themselves. Often the motivations that resulted in the creation of those beliefs also become visible.

It is when we are young that we are most trusting and accepting and least possessive of experience, hence we're most open to receiving assumptions and viewpoints as well as being least able to critically evaluate or consider them. We take what we're given...whether we ever choose to evaluate those beliefs and/or assumptions and/or perspectives predicated on the questions noted in the quote...that's a different thing. Generally that can only occur after we've lived long enough to acquire a fund of experience and knowledge that allows us a foundation from which to engage in competent questioning.

Doing this kind of questioning can be upsetting and threatening hence, many choose to not follow this path. Moreover, many who opt to not do this get riled up if someone else does some questioning...even though they aren't the ones doing it.

When I was a quite young child I was (like many/most children) a big question asker. My parents were strongly invested in their religion and I asked many questions about their beliefs, about god and the bible. They were kind enough to try to answer them but I soon was asking about things beyond their knowing so they would invite various church people to Sunday dinner with the hopes that these folks could answer my questions. I remember ploughing through several of these deacons and preachers until finally one, in their apparent frustration with my questions, said something that has stuck with me. He said...and I'm paraphrasing here..."you don't think about this or question it...you just believe it". That resonated with me because I could see he was on the edge of anger and because what he said felt like a truth. The sort of religion they participated in wasn't one that took too kindly to questions beyond a certain point.

I was reminded of that situation some years later when I was in basic training. A fellow trainee had done something that upset the drill sergeant and he asked (screamed at) this fellow why he had done the upsetting thing and the trainee responded with "I thought...." and the sergeant almost levitated while screaming "don't think...just do what you're told". My parents religion and basic training were similar in many ways...thinking and/or questioning past certain points wasn't welcome and would evoke anger in many situations.

I have neglected to become super proficient at not questioning things...I often haven't questioned when I should have but I never did quite achieve comfort with just believing things without questioning or thinking about them. I used to long for that though...questioning/thinking is often sort of a pain in the ass...life seems lots less stressful if "you just believe it". Or so it has seemed to me at times.

That interest in questioning and thinking was part of what drew me toward the practice of psychotherapy. Various schools of thought there encourage questioning damn near everything...which was right up my alley. You can see why the quote I inserted above was appealing to me. Most psychotherapists have a very different notion of "normal" than the average person. It is refreshing to see notions that fit well into certain psychotherapeutic approaches presented as simply a way of approaching the living of life. Critical theory is snazzy stuff.

Think about all the things your culture presents to you as "normal"...that aren't to be thought about or questioned...but just done. Think about all the times some sort of authority demands that you not question but just follow instructions. Sometimes "normal" things are valid...like don't walk in front of speeding automobiles...but way too many "normal" things are just stuff somebody made up that maybe benefited them or their group and instead of owning up to that it was for their benefit they presented it as "normal" and not to be questioned. One clue about the origin of something indicating whether it is made up stuff or not is whether people get all riled up over the questioning of it...especially when there is no harm apparent in that questioning.

Again...you can question walking in front of speeding cars all day...and that doesn't change the fact that you'll probably get badly hurt if you do it...but questioning whether it's ok for a man to wear a skirt...hey...what's the harm? But...I can assure you that some people will get riled up over the skirt thing...which suggests that it's just made up stuff. 

I have to admit, I sort of get a hoot out of engaging with someone and asking questions about something or other that they present as "the way it is" and observing when they start getting nervous about the questions. That usually means we're getting to that point where the preacher sort of told me to shut up and just "believe". I don't always question like that...but sometimes I do. It's sort of spooky...really...how many of us have those "just believe it" elements in our worldview and usually we don't realize it. (I think that "not realizing" stuff is one way that invisibling manifests itself).

I've noticed, over the years, that the way many/most who don't want to pursue the questions deal with my inquisitiveness is by sticking me into a category where they can discount my questions. They assign me to some grouping that facilitates their being able to ignore or minimize my thinking or questioning. I think maybe that's partially what drives marginalization . If they can tag me as "weird" or "strange" or or or then I can more easily be ignored...and by association so can my questions.

If you choose to question  "firmest beliefs"...be ready to be considered as "peculiar" by those who aren't into asking questions...and be ready to feel uncomfortable. Both because questioning strong beliefs can be disturbing all by itself (because of what you might discover) and...your fellow cultural participants will often reward your questioning by rejecting and/or marginalizing you. It can be rather daunting. Interesting...but daunting.

I suspect that many/most of you who operate out of an ethical vegan framework have encountered this sort of reaction. Whether you asked questions about the "normalcy" of oppressing animals out loud...or whether simply your way of living implied such questioning, I would bet that many of you have been consigned (whether overtly or covertly) to the realm of the "strange" or the "weird" by those who were made uncomfortable by your veganism.

It is sort of instructive to think about marginalizing humans because of their way of being or living. How often does that happen, not because there's anything harmful about their way of living or being, but because it implies a questioning of that which culture said was "normal"? I have to admit that often when I run into the justification for some way of living/being that includes "because it's normal", I think of the drill sergeant with the red face and the twisted and screaming mouth.

Ever hear the phrase "think outside of the box"? That's actually just a variation of saying "question what's normal". What's interesting is that many who use the box phrase don't realize that they're advocating something that, should it actually happen, would probably make them uncomfortable. If you actually do get outside that "box"...don't be surprised if the drill sergeant (whether it's your own internalized drill sergeant or one from the outside) shows up.


Have Gone Vegan said...

Shoot, meant to reply to this much earlier. Funny, but on the exact same day when I read your post, I had just finished reading this in Norm Phelps' introduction to Changing the Game:

"The personal is certainly political, just as the feminist motto says. But when we treat the political as though it were purely personal, we are looking into the wrong end of the telescope." p3

Do enough reading, and you get all sorts of overlaps. Love it when that happens. :)

Your post also led me to wonder whatever happened to the "Question Authority" bumper sticker that was proudly stuck to one of my doors during my university days, but I trust that I still follow it enough in principle...

veganelder said...

Thank you for commenting HGV. I'm thinking about writing soon on something Norm Phelps wrote about so hang on.

I like the gist...I think...of the quote you presented from him but...I have one caution I would insert about it. The first sentence uses the qualifier "certainly" and the second sentence uses the qualifier "purely" and presents them as if they are the same...that's a little misleading because they aren't identical.

Probably this is all explained more fully in the introduction as to why he's even writing this so I will endeavor to access the source.

Ah yes...question authority...where that gets even trickier is when we are the authority. That's where I find myself in a swamp...when it's my "common sense" that's full of crap and not some external source is when I start getting a real headache. :-)

By the way...you might enjoy a documentary called "The Perverts Guide to Ideology"...it begins by referencing one of my all time favorite movies "They Live" and dissecting parts of it in such a way that is extremely informative and thought provoking. The documentary goes on a bit long for me but up through the part where he talks about the Nazi film "Triumph of the Will"...well...I've seen really nothing that does such a good job of explaining how ideology works to traps us in ways of thinking/comprehending. If you watch it let me know what you think of it.

Have Gone Vegan said...

I've never seen "They Live", but the documentary sounds interesting! I've put it on my list.

As for Norm's quote, I'm not quite sure what you mean. Are you saying that he's presenting the qualifiers as being the same, or personal/political? Maybe I'm reading it wrong, but I don't think he does either.

Haven't read that far into the book, but knowing Norm's viewpoints I took his quote as perhaps referring to the Francione-style abolitionist belief that the political change of having the "world" go vegan is best achieved by primarily advocating individual personal change.

I'll be hanging on for sure... ;)

veganelder said...

Thank you for commenting again HGV.

Regarding the quote. I was just noting that he used the qualifier "purely" in the first sentence and then used "certainly" in the second and that the two words (purely and certainly) do not mean exactly the same thing.

That was all I was referencing...but...when I think about it...I'm not sure that it isn't always (in some degree or another) the case that the personal is political and also that the political is personal. I dunno.