“Like guerrillas, the young are in a favored position; they don’t need or want the hardware and audiences of yesterday.” – Edmund Snow Carpenter, 1970
I drew this picture yesterday. It is how I experience entities. People, places, food, music, a hangnail, a hole in a sock. I start at the top, on the surface, and the go deeper. I think layers 1 (Ignorance) and 5 (Integration) are the sweet spots.
Ignorance: I am blissfully unaware of the entity.
Suspicion: I suspect an entity might exist. Maybe I saw everyone in the office eating strawberries at their desk, so I hypothesize a communal bowl of strawberries is in the kitchen.
Awareness: I have indeed discovered a bowl of strawberries in the kitchen.
Familiarity: There are a lot of strawberries here. The bowl is made of metal. These look GMO but that does not bother me I think if we ever want to live in outer space, then everything will need to be GMO some day.
Most sediments of attachment stop here. There isn’t much else that can be done. In order to continue this example, let us pretend the bowl of strawberries returns again and again on every Monday.
Integration: I no longer eat breakfast at home on Monday’s. I know there will be strawberries waiting for me at the office and that is more than enough to keep me going until lunch. I am thankful for these strawberries. They have become a staple in the rhythm of life.
Okay, we’re going to get weird now.
Intimacy: There are about 50 strawberries, plus or minus 7 each week. I know this because I count them every week and update my mental model. These are probably sourced from California, but I’m not sure why I think of that.
These next 4 could probably be merged or reduced or re-organized. There aren’t many entities in life that I experience this way. Maybe there should be an “addiction” layer?
Obsession: I think about strawberries all day. Not just any strawberries, but the Monday Office Strawberries. I dream about them. Between ever activity and thought I find myself disassociating and returning to memories and anticipations of them.
Compulsion: I cannot control myself. I get up from my desk every 4 minutes and get another strawberry. They comfort me.
And now we’re going to get really, really weird.
Neurosis: I think the Monday Office Strawberries have some cosmic significance. Maybe they are heralds of the anthropocene? A mark or symbol of my favored position within some organization? I will photograph them and make sure I have records. Are these 3D printed?
Hypnosis: I come to and am staring into the bowl of strawberries. How long have I been here?
Madness: I am stealing strawberries from the bowl, smuggling them out of the office, and installing them on shelves in my home. I have labels of each date they were liberated. Some are very old and very small and very black.
Fractal: This layer exists only because I suspect (see layer 2) there is something beyond madness, though I’m not sure what that might be.
The deeper I go, the more attached I become. I’ve found that I need to be careful with what I get into for this reason. I don’t play many games, for example, because I have a tendency to sink to the Obsession layer. The only escape is then to complete the game.
Descent and Ascent
This “descent into attachment” is always an additive process. I am learning, consuming, or collecting. In Buddhism, attachment is associated with suffering. The more things you take ownership of, be they thoughts or physical possessions, the more opportunities for pain, loss, and suffering you create for yourself.
The “ascent to non-attachment” is always a subtractive processes. Besides are forgetting and brain diseases or damage, the only path to liberation is conscious decoupling. Separating yourself (your ego, your body, your mind) from the thing in a meaningful and conscious way. The Marie Kondo Method and 12 Step Program are a great examples of this. Meditation helps, too.
The Sweet Spots
I think Ignorance and Integration are the sweet spots for me. Ignorance is interesting because when we’re born, you are ignorant of everything. It is the natural state of the human mind. Once I’m Suspicious of something, I tend to seek confirmation so I can put my mind to rest. But once Aware, since I’m a curious person, I tend to seek Familiarity because I want to understand. So if I ever tip beyond Ignorance, I’m pretty much destined for Integration!
To me, Integration is about learning just enough to assimilate the entity into your mental model of reality, put to use any utility you can, and then move on. Some examples of entities I’ve integrated:
- The US income tax system.
- The Metra train schedule.
- Linux servers.
- My local grocery store.
The Lower Layers
I think a lot of products and services today are designed to penetrate to the deepest layers as fast as possible. Television is especially good at fracking the sediments. I think about friends I’ve heard say things like, “I watched the first episode and I was obsessed.” So many fandoms and subcultures are constructed around the endless cycle of obsession and compulsion. Apps and websites are designed to keep you locked in these loops.
If layers 6, 7, and 8 are borderline unhealthy, layers 9 through 12 definitely fall into the mental illness category. I haven’t spent very much time here, but I know I don’t like it and never want to return.
How is this model useful? Besides protecting myself from myself (like with games), it helps me build empathy towards others. I can think about where others might be on the layers of sediment when interacting with them. We all have such different experiences and perspectives. If you assume everyone is at whatever level you’re on, you are going to have a lot of really awkward and asymmetrical interactions.
Always be humble. Always be non-attached. Integrate the things that are useful. Choose your intimacies judiciously. Beware the bats.
This morning I found myself reeling from a podcast featuring Gordon White and Jay Springett (spoiler, “trying to make forests have personhood under law so that AIs can run on top of that and serve on boards to represent the interests of the forest”) but nonetheless listening to Mat Dryhurst talk about pretty much everything that matters to me. I found both of these conversations via Twitter. I was profoundly filled with gratitude for having the chance to listen and engage with this stuff. Then I realized that I’ve consistently had this feeling for a while now.
Then I realized something else: this consistency started around the time I deleted my fucking Facebook account. Why? Pretty simple. After deleting my account I:
- Began intentionally curating various private Twitter lists.
- Doubled down on nurturing Discord communities with people I care about.
- Started blogging here.
- Really started blogging there.
- Probably a bunch of other things I’m not yet aware of.
To an extent, I was doing all this stuff before deleting my account. But there was always Facebook as a fallback cushion when I felt lonely or disconnected or whatever. That knowledge was a psychic inhibitor. In this way, deleting my account was like jumping into the ocean without a portable flotation device: it forced me to take responsibility for my social media habits.