Goodnight, sweetheart – lies of reality and images

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Could that illusion have only been a single year ago? Baudrillard has argued that ‘reality barely has time to exist, if it does at all, before it has begun disappearing’. It’s a bit like the last (spoiler) part of the HBO modern classic, Six Feet Under, in which Nate appears posthumously to tell younger sister Claire that she cannot capture the moment with a photograph – it’s already gone. (And this is pretty much its own snapshot of how I feel about photography. An image can be a trigger for a memory, ‘moments, nostalgia but incapable of capturing reality in its ephemeral and disappearing(ed) state’. Actually Baudrillard deals with this, too (in The Intelligence of Evil: or, The Lucidity Pact):

“Can photography exempt itself from this flood of images and restore an original power to them? To do so, the turbulent operation of the world would have to be suspended; the object would have to be caught in that single fantastic moment of first contact when things had not yet noticed we were there, when absence and emptiness had not yet dissipated . . . It would, in fact, have to be the world itself that performed the photographic act, as though the world were affording itself the means to appear, quite apart from us.”

And

“At any rate, the lens simultaneously captures the way we are there and the way we are no longer there. This is why, before the eye of the camera, we act dead in our innermost being, as God does before the proofs of his existence. Everything in us crystallizes negatively before the material imagining of our presence.” (italics – mine – as usual)

Go figure. The way this is described almost breaks my heart. Weakling.)

What does photography reveal in this possibly-real reality, though? Do we get anything from it? Especially in a now-visually-desensitized age, where a microsecond glance-and-swipe constitutes a dating decision?

“The worst thing for us is precisely the impossibility of a world without image feed – a world that would not endlessly be laid hold of, captured, filmed and photographed before it has even been seen. A lethal danger for the ‘real’ world, but also for the image, since where it merely recycles the real and immerses itself in the real there is no longer any image – not, at least, as exception, illusion or parallel universe. In the visual flow submerging us, there is no longer even time for the image to become image.” (italicized emphasis mine, emphatically mine)

It is a peculiar feeling, to be in one’s own life, or to see images of that life, and feel as though, in either case, upon reflection, you were not really there. Just outside watching it unfold, as though a secondary observer, but through a looking glass.

“This is the miracle: that a fragment of the world, human consciousness, arrogates to itself the privilege of being its mirror. But this will never produce an objective truth, since the mirror is part of the object it reflects.”

The reality is real and can be reflected but isn’t anything that can tasted, touched, felt ever again. Was it truly felt the first time… in that momentary, illusory glimpse of reality that possibly existed?

Image (c) 2018 S Donaghy (an image as good as any to convey the randomness of the simultaneously ephemeral and interminable moments of life…)

“reality is only interaction”

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“Probability does not refer to the evolution of matter in itself. It relates to the evolution of those specific quantities we interact with. Once again, the profoundly relational nature of the concept we use to organize the world emerges.” -from Seven Brief Lessons on Physics, Carlo Rovelli

Principles of physics come to mind for me frequently when I think of connections with people. It may be illogical, but somehow the way things are described in physics overlaps how things unfold. Do I feel this way because I am older, and I want to see connections where there are none? Physics is bound by rules, and connections between people are not, necessarily. But as Rovelli states in explaining concepts of physics, “the profoundly relational nature of the concept we use to organize the world emerges”. Every concept seems to come back to the principle that everything happens or is real because of how it interacts with other things. “Or does it mean, as it seems to me, that we must accept the idea that reality is only interaction?”

Reality is relational. Relationships, obviously, then are relational, as denoted in the word itself. We choose when, where, with whom, and how often to interact to create our reality and the relationships in that reality. And we make choices in allowing feeling to form or grow. We shut some things down; we slow other things down; we accelerate some things; we destroy others. Our reactions are individual, but also mutual and sometimes collective. And these interactions are sparked, changed, moved, freed by all these other interactions. Nothing much happens without interaction.

“The difference between past and future exists only when there is heat. The fundamental phenomenon that distinguishes the future from the past is the fact that heat passes from things that are hotter to things that are colder.”-from Seven Brief Lessons on Physics, Carlo Rovelli

And in our immediate moment – the now – in our interaction, skin to skin, we keep each other warm?

Creating reality

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In the middle-of-night hours of Saturday/morning Sunday, I didn’t realize I had lost a whole hour – I had somehow misled myself into thinking the time change was coming the next week. No. It was that Sunday. But I was up all night anyway, so it didn’t really matter. I just remember looking at the clock sometime in the night (around 3) thinking that that last hour sure passed quickly. Yeah, because we skipped it entirely.

In many ways we can create our own reality – but in terms of time, and the ridiculousness of daylight saving/standard time switches, we will be and are slaves, despite what the semi-New Agey psychic phenomena book I read the other day says:

“That we shape our perception is not just a statement about attitude, it also means just what it says: we construct our experience! … We create reality by the imagery we use to organize our experience. The three-dimensional world that we see is fabricated in our brain based upon an inner pattern of three-dimensional space.”

Yes, someone concocted time zones, spring-forward, fall-back and linear time itself. And somehow we all (or almost all) agreed to follow this organization of things. (Or perhaps we fell for it! We organized life itself into oblivion!)

Indeed someone has to see or organize or conceptualize things in a new way to bring about a new understanding and eventually a new reality. And be capable of imagining what has hitherto been a given (e.g. the real is flat) as something other. The book used another interesting example – the guy who finally envisioned the heart as a pump rather than as some cyclical thing, flowing like the tides. He would have to imagine things differently first to apply the new meaning or descriptor.

How shall I imagine things differently to create reality?

The changing workscape: Embracing negativity

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It’s not negativity, dummy – it’s reality. Listen to reality! Do not be held hostage to “groupidity”!

An ongoing frustration for people grounded in reality is the failure of the organizations they work in to listen to and act on the reality of a situation. Today I read in Business Week why negativity is an undervalued – and often completely dismissed and discouraged – aspect of the workplace. We have all worked with someone who constantly “disrupts” the seeming flow of the perfect plan with 100 questions about the real implementation of the plan. Everyone gets frustrated with this because it is almost always seen as negative, dragging the group down and not being positive about the plan. But the truth is – if a group could tap into even a fraction of the “negative doubts” being raised by that one “pain in the ass”, it is possible that a lot of pain could be saved down the line.

“Why did they try to shoot the messenger instead of listening to the message? One answer is that’s what organizations do—especially dysfunctional organizations. As a young IT consultant, I sat through more than one meeting where we, or someone, tried to stop a client from doing something obviously crazy. Usually, the result was that the client did something crazy, and that someone went looking for another job.

Doctor No, that grating in-house critic, can be your most valuable employee—if you can make yourself listen. That’s surprisingly hard to do. Organizations exist for the purpose of doing stuff. That’s what their staff is hired to do. The guy who says maybe we shouldn’t do that stuff—or the stuff we’re doing isn’t working—is not very popular. There’s a large body of literature on dissenters, and it mostly tells you what you already know if you’ve ever been to a project meeting: Nobody likes a Negative Nancy.”

Interestingly, the article cites the Challenger space shuttle launch decision and the systematic redefinition and reassessment of “risk” and risk parameters to justify the launch and ever-riskier decisions and behavior. Of note, back in the late 1990s when I was doing my MPA, the book the article refers to (The Challenger Launch Decision by Diane Vaughan) was a text we used as a case study to look at risk assessment in the public sector. It was fascinating.

“Investigations into the disaster showed NASA had fallen prey to what you might call “groupidity,” a special form of groupthink in which we collectively become willing to take risks we individually recognize as stupid—because everybody else in the room seems to think it’s fine. NASA had been noticing unexpected problems with the O-rings for a while. At meetings about that issue, they systematically redefined what they considered risky, and concerns about the O-rings were downplayed.”

Not all corporate decisions are life or death, as the fateful Challenger decision turned out to be, but can anyone afford to ignore the cold hard facts of reality?

An extension of stifling the “voice of reason” – particularly by maligning it as being a naysaying, nitpicking killjoy who likes to derail things just for the sake of negativity – is that people pay a high price for acting happy and inauthentic. I read an article (kind of a tangent but still came to mind for me) about employees forced to behave in a certain “happy” way in customer service roles, and I would argue that this extends to being forced or pressured to pretend that reality is other than it is (or being sidelined because no one wants to hear your reality), i.e. swallowing the “group truth” to go along with the happy sheep herd of “groupidity”.

“Surface acting is when front line service employees, the ones who interact directly with customers, have to appear cheerful and happy even when they’re not feeling it. This kind of faking is hard work—sociologists call it “emotional labor”—and research shows that it’s often experienced as stressful. It’s psychologically and even physically draining; it can lead to lowered motivation and engagement with work, and ultimately to job burnout.

Having to act in a way that’s at odds with how one really feels—eight hours a day, five days a week (or longer)—violates the human need for a sense of authenticity. We all want to feel that we’re the same person on the outside as we are on the inside, and when we can’t achieve that congruence, we feel alienated and depersonalized.”

This article discusses the customer-facing employee – but what about the employee facing and interacting with other employees within an organization? The “Negative Nancy” illustrated in the previous example article about the benefits of negativity? How is Negative Nancy, with her deep thinking, analysis and bad news supposed to face coming to work every day facing a room full of skeptics who think everything is okay? What kind of emotional labor is she facing?

And how do we handle this in an organization – particularly one that is dysfunctional or downplays/discourages dissent and may even ostracize those who are notoriously critical? (And where is the distinction between “negative” and “critical”!?)

For now, late on a Saturday night, try not to take it to heart, because, as Mark E Smith of The Fall  would advise in his mad genius wisdom, “Life just bounces/so don’t you get worried at all…”. Perhaps this is willfully ignoring reality and becoming a Pangloss (i.e., “everything will be fine in the end because it will turn out how it’s meant to turn out”).

All-or-nothing nature, mistakes and poetry: Oat fudge bars

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