Here is an essay I’ve been working on this last month, but I still feel I am not ready to publish it. You can tell me what you think. It’s about habits.
Daniel Christopher June
Every habit gives energy. It opens a channel from the needs that flows more and more energy into itself, until the behavior feels primary and natural, requires no artificial effort from the will to persist, and takes more energy to not perform it.
All the habits interrelate, and they are aware of each other, negotiating with each other; this negotiation we call “thinking,” and all thinking and acting comes together as a system.
Our full system of habits, our “way of life” our “go with the flow,” includes also our unwillingness to start new habits, our excuses against them, our hypocrisy to praise them anyway, if that seems prudent. It’s all in there, it’s all part of the system. But a system requires habits to manage all other habits, and scan new information for relevent intellectual objects.
All intellectual objects are simple, easy to communicate, hardly anything at all. But to transmit a sophisticated figure, something many sided, in other words, to create a schema, takes a long time. Learning a new language, assuming you are still young enough to be receptive, requires at least a decade. For us, English is an easy language, the easiest language to think in, but as an adult’s second language, it infuriates. This complex, many sided, ever so tricky beast “English” requires ten of our most formative and impressionable years. And only somebody who learns English as his first language, as his mother tongue, can possibly write something great in it. His ideas may be superb, but he must belong with English from the very start, and preferably without too many distracting other languages to sap away his strength. All hail monoglots!
As with the individual, so with the culture. Ideas take decades to permeate the soil. New ideas require a few centuries before we take them for common sense. These ideas must be argued against, argued for, blood must be spilled on behalf of them, courts and lawyers must be cheerfully exploited and misused for them – such as the idea of evolution, democracy, rights, freedom – before the idea becomes so all-pervasive, such a part of every other idea, that we cannot think without it.
When the idea is everywhere, and every other cultural idea contains parts of it, we say that it is “universal.” Converting a nonbeliever to Christianity is no big deal: he already knows the very face of Jesus a thousand times over from billboards, tee-shirts, movies, etc. He knows how a Christian acts, what a conversion looks like. And the early Christians were not that much more baffled, for similar mystery religions had prepared for the upstart cult. Today, we all know quite a bit about all the major world religions. We have stereotypes, we have fluidtypes. It’s all in there.
We have taken in an engine that puts all these ideas in place.
An engine is a complex habit that both creates other habits, and also filters what information may become conscious.
Each set of memories becomes a story, and genres of stories become types; as we experience enough types, we build archetypes, or pithy basic stories about life. For the greatest motivators in life are stories, and to act in life is to live a story. We teach through stories, we learn through stories, we entertain each other through stories, and we can listen attentively to even the most unbelievable stories if they are told right. How readily each of our lives resolves to a biography.
We develop a roster of archetypal stories, with the stereotypical players. Even if they are fictional, and only happened in the imagination, they program us to act; they base a worldview, the most important part: how to live within a world. Striving for greatness and intimacy, importance and love, each person focuses on the story that best fits who he has already become, and aligns his personality with the character who wins what he wants to win. Personality is a style come to consciousness. Literature, as well as society and its traditions and habits, assign us roles to play and choose from. One can have a range of styles being a doctor, but there are things he cannot do, even if legal.
The “engine” interprets stories into daily life. It takes from archetypes and builds pragmatic habits fit for the messy confusion of the real world. An engine is a hermeneutical tool, working unconsciously to align our behavior to the paradigms of memory. We build habits personally and individually, but unconsciously the engines support these decisions, and limit what ideas are allowed to become conscious. We must choose only special relevant ideas to think of.
Each man specializes to do his work and this is true of course for the guardians of knowledge, who not only memorize a series of facts, principles, and stories about a given subject, but also get a mystical sense for how it all hangs together, the intuitions that one learns through years of deep study—though only a genius could simplify and formulate them. And even the simplified rules that come from intuition do not thereby grant intuition, because they are stereotyped, and lack the “mystical” “gut sense” that guides the mind through the thick misty world of the unknown. Hard work cannot be escaped. Our best bet is to keep from the same work being needlessly repeated. Yet engines allow experience to be readily summarized and transferred.
A novel can be summarized to suit its fans, yet that summary can never substitute reading the original. Encyclopedias only point directions, they do not educate. In the same way, there can be no replacement for experience, and decades of it. We assume and assing many engines, and thus become part of society, for we must know what ideas to take in so as to fit in, though our greatest contributions to society will come from no such prefabricated engine.
Engines take the shape of a Me, a We, a Persona-of, or a Persona-for.
Let’s look at a We-engine. When one belongs to a race, a religion, a tradition, or a nationality, he inherits a We. That We is something that thinks for the I, in its place. The I is the autonomous conscious will, serving the Needs of the Self. The We also serves the Needs of the Self, but not only. A We exists for the greater whole of Us. A church for instance. Once one has replaced his I-my-name with We-the-Christians, We- the-Americans, We-the-scholars, We-the-feminists, or whatever name We takes, We gain a new power. The We acts as a filter and an orienter over all world-materials, and lets the I gain possession of many ideas unique to that We which have grown in refinement and power for centuries. Because the we has copy written the ideas, and has evolved to be receptive to them, any man, once properly initiated, will be able to gain powerful ideas that before he could only acknowledge.
Christianity, like the cold virus, survives by an ability to quickly mutate and adapt the individual. The We-inheritance of Christianity includes all the accomplishments of the religion. All the hymns, theologies, martyrologies, biographies of saints and sinners, philosophies, self-help manuals, etc. are inherited quickly and without interference of the critical I. There is no need to seek a monastery to inherit these millions of hours of work upon a few ideas, encoded in books, symbols, arts, and shrines: they are disseminated in self-protecting forms in every niche of our intellectual culture. The I as servant of the Needs naturally is extremely critical if not downright xenophobic against outside powers that wish to usurp the system. Consider how most of us avoid addictive chemicals or bad habits and never cease to speak ill of them.
The We-engine comforts us that it has tested and approved all its recommended downloads, and that we may feel the comfort of faith that we need not be critical over what belongs to Us-the-group.
With a lack of critical resistance to these ideas, they chain together and dominate the system, so much so, that a serious and honest Christian can “hate father and mother,” leave his family, even curse them, perhaps leave for India or Africa, give his complete life over to “Christ” (the warm big-brother poster child plastered over the virus’s face), and feel he is being the best human he can by infecting others. That is, everything normal and natural to his needs is usurped for “the greater glory of God.”
Let us be fair. This human individual, by sacrificing his Me to the We, has indeed gained many instant powers that he could not fashion in a lifetime. He has all sorts of thinking habits, weapons and tools of many forms, which he neither has to understand nor criticize, and now empowers him. He may feel fit to judge all men, greater men, to condemn friend and foe, according to what he now calls a “higher truth,” which unlike a higher truth, he need make no effort to achieve. But alas, having subordinated his I, he cannot use these powers primarily for his needs, but must always use them for the greater We. Even if he wanted to use them for himself, he wouldn’t know how.
The We-body contains all the people who share the We-engine, and teaches us how to recognize our own. It is in this way alone that we can take conspiracy theories seriously, that the world belongs to, and is fought over by, great collective conspiracies. Such subversive groups need not plot consciously. Their great power is that they create global crimes and triumphs without any individual realizing what he is doing. Even still, Christians, Muslims, and Mormons all talk of converting the whole world to their We. Not that they will accept a fake conversion: the convert must be thoroughly normalized.
Engines are sorters of this and that. A this is important, but a that is passed over. An engine is the interpreter. By reading the last section of Nietzsche’s Human all too human,(The Wanderer and his Shadow), we see Nietzsche give a set of aphorisms each addressing this or that cultural object. We already know the objects, and we know the normal interpretation. Knowing the normal is important here. Seeing Nietzsche masterly interpret each artifact gives us a provisional pair of Nietzschean eyes.
When contemplating before a mirror, choose a few ideas from your life or studies, and lay out a systematized set of questions to address them, a means of formulating your results, and reversing, inverting, and substituting elements. If you can do this, you will have done all that can be done in any interpretation. Lay it out, make it deliberate, and tediously go through every step. It is only tedious till it is automatic. The quickest wit was once a slow study.
If, for instance, you are in doubt of a possible outcome in your life, the health of your child or the prospects of a job, and lacking control to fix one alternative, make peace with the worst likely alternative, and breathe easy with that option, so that you can let it go and work your effort into grasping, and not worrying.
The most complex data, the utter chaos, have regularities that promise you, “from complexity a new simplicity.” Any data set has a cause and a nature. Know therefore that all conceptual thinking is the setting of a container to categorize objects, and using prepositional phrases to shape the container and orient it among others.
Society perpetuates itself by establishing a sense of what is normal, and a sense of what is desirable. Every man in society is constantly normalized. If he is sensitive to the final consequences of defying a norm – to be beaten and subdued – he will know to wince when a stranger on the street wrinkles his brow a bit. Our society is free, liberty for all. But in fact we are so normalized that we can be free – we have fully internalized the rules. But walk the street naked, and this freedom looks different. It is easy to imagine a thousand indiscretions, which of themselves have no weight in virtue, only in morality – and morality is the duty system of “being normal” – that will get you arrested and assaulted, for no other reason than that everybody else has been trained like an animal to react in a dumb and absolute manner. Most conversation is negotiating, and you can scarcely tell a joke without also carefully judging the faces, to evaluate how they are taking you.
To be “normalized” is a pleasant process, insofar as you cooperate. But insofar as you resist, they will subdue you, with as many as it takes to hold you down. Yes, the great man breaks rules, but he does so as Hermes does, by acknowledging where the boundaries are, and what they mean, and skirting them. A man who audaciously breaks the rules, even if his actions touch no other human being, is a criminal—a lawless enemy of mores.
Words are a sort of capital. By putting words (desire charges) into speech, into writings, into memory, you have bought yourself a place in the world, and continually collect dividends upon it. Freedom of speech is necessary for the flow of powerful ideas, and without freedom of speech, there is no freedom of mind, no freedom to even think the things we would tell nobody. For we internalize the external. If adulterers in your country are killed for their sins, so is the part of you that would be capable of adultery, and that part of you is capable of many good things as well. It is like outlawing “hate speech” or “intolerant speech” by which they castrate their own minds.
Nietzsche spoke of how forcing into men the engine for promising took generations of persistent will, with the artificial necessities of torture and cruelty to “make the memory” of promise-making. This idea that we ought to make promises, and our word binds us was not natural, but it is now second nature, and nobody questions it. It required a persistent and long-lasting will, imposed by necessity. In other words, tyranny is merely the first step to normalcy. All that is needed is an artificial necessity made into a compulsion. “All religious are at the deepest level systems of cruelties.” And what is made normal for society will kill off the abnormal.
A given We might fit with certain patterns of DNA better than others, and once it has filled this niche, it may induce selective mating, thus adapting the DNA to be more We-receptive, and it may also be adapted by this DNA in turn. Such a We becomes a race and heritage. Not all We’s work this way. Nevertheless, certain long established We-bodies oppose other We-bodies: one religious faction kills the other, and the parts they kill change the gene pool, the way individuals marry and breed – and this resurrects for us the old disproven Lamarkianism of the 1800s. Choice breeds choice.
The Atheist-We has for the first time, and in our generation, achieved a great following. That the Atheist has difficulty being a “We” is long attested. For atheists disbelieve in the typical We-mascots of Gods and Spirits. Even the deists resorted to God as a mascot for Reason. God stands for an originator, protector, approver, and blesser of the We. No religion invented a God to chose some other people. The God, in turn, becomes the “voice” of the We-Engine in each individual, a sort of internal talking habit, or at least a complex of “religious” feelings that more than anything else orient the I to subordinate the Me to the We-engine.
In Dawkins’ term, we would not call an engine a “meme” but a meme is only the information from which such an engine is instated. The engine, as a habit, is made of organized desires. The blueprints for the engine would be a set of memes, a set of assumptions, and again, the engine would filter through and latch onto the memes it recognized in the world environment. Ultimately information is not desire, information is not habit, and so the We-engine uses memes, but not a meme itself. Once an engine is instated, no mere change of facts affects it.
Habit, and the proto-habits, instincts, were the first orchestrators of memories and assumptions. How we willed to remember, how we willed to abstract, solidified in our toddler years into autonomous unconscious processes. The structurer of memories is called the Mythic, and the structurer of assumptions is called the Typer. The structurer of habits is called the Engine.
An engine is a filter of objects from the unconscious and the world, fixing a desire on them according to importance, priority, and difficulty. That is, the desires imposed unto mental objects by habit do not compete anarchically with each other, but the System of the mind uses an Engine to filter objects according to importance (how much desire they hold), their priority (who gets enacted first), and their difficulty (whether a desire can be enacted semi-automatically). This keeps the mind focused where decisions need to be made.
Insofar as a conscious decision is unnecessary, the Engine will put the Trigger on the right Desire. It will build new habits the way consciousness builds habits, by seeing a pattern of triggers and putting the right desire on each of them. An engine automatic structures desire. Most desires require no full-conscious decision: they are all habit by now. And indeed, most decisions which require some consciousness do not require much. Rarely does the average man need to fully will anything. Yet, he who exercises grows strong.
A filter against irrelevancies for the consciousness must necessarily be unconscious, but it could not have been completely instinctual, since the civilized world is novel and changing. Therefore, the unconscious filters must necessarily have had to been conscious to begin with.
Engines aid conscious habit formation. Adults make very few big habits. They merely build upon and rearrange existing habits. Learning big habits takes much training.
An engine serves its source. When we build an engine we have learned from a group system, that engine seeks its system, and will tend towards others of that system. It will see the world as a set of arrows pointing the way to this goal.
A group subordinates all to one mind. The pretty names it uses for group fidelity are “loyalty” “selflessness” “for the greater good of mankind,” “for the greater glory of God,” or some other magical formula to sell self-sacrifice.
The greatest cause of all man’s problems is not his ego – in this the Easterners miss the boat – but in his Me, insofar as the Me is a socially determined, socially limited, socially defined function which imposes the wrong wants over the innermost Needs. The Me reflects the We, and to gain full control of the Me, is to redefine and change the We, to change, electrify, and magnetize every person you know.
It is for this reason that as soon as a new friend tells me of his Christian convictions, I know I have no mind, no ego to address, but only the Christian Me embedded in the Christian We. I will learn nothing original from this part, for he is no man. I must look elsewhere in the man, perhaps to his guilts, to find something original to him, something good.
An engine is like a magnetized piece of metal: that scrap of iron points its own north, amidst the hundreds of other engines within you, it is subtle, but when thousands of you get together, you electrify each other, and charge your systems in the same direction.
It takes a lot of work to cut out all the contexts from an idea, to make it fully your own. When Edison says that “Nature is his God,” he is going to be misunderstood twice. For such an overwrought concept as God has magnetized billions of brains, and these brains have written billions of manuscripts, crafted all forms of art. Let a freethinker live in a Christian town, and he will feel himself forever an outsider, even if he keeps fully mum on his views.
Missionaries act as culture spores. The system-structure of Christianity, built over thousands of years, is a malleable junk structure upon which hang the ornaments of greater cultures than Christianity. Just as the Renaissance celebrated Greek sublimity by painting and sculpting the Greek beauties, but with Jewish stories, so too does Christianity reinterpret the great beauties of the world in the drab but sellable frame of the Christian salvation mechanism. The drama, an epitomizing and abbreviation of countless ancient myths, becomes the scaffolding of the great ornaments of the Western world.
Engines are inserted through violence. For some engines are too big for the mouth to take in, so the mouth must be bent. The mind’s conscious analysis can take in such a little bit of culture at a time, that it must be entertained by the meal, and only somewhat consciously analytical – this medicine requires consciousness! – and yet made dumb and unaware to the deeper implications of its dinner. It is like swallowing a sphere which is sweet on the outside, but sour on the middle. Only the unconscious tastes the inner sour of the worldview, and slowly, that poison will surface as if from your own soul. Once you have those engines in place, your world is shaped and lensed to see only those things the filters let you see. You fancy you live in the universe, but you are in a defined and limited world. The only way to escape your impending bind is yet another trauma, evoked by your innermost desire for freedom.
The smallest We is the We of my friend and Me. The Me is a persona-of our selves, adapted to the persona-of you. I have a Me that objectifies my I for my I and also for plugging in my image of you my friend. What I think of you is not your literal mind, but my artificial image of you, my persona-of you, and that persona-of you is malleable and intractable. I can dissect him, talk with him, negotiate with him, and all these modifications are real, and you will feel them when I talk again with you, for I will press that persona-of you, the manikin, as an interface over the external you. The external you I cannot see, but must conceive. I can see nothing in the world without having concepts to frame them.
When I slip this manikin over you, a mask by which I can see you, you also see this mask, and respond. “You misunderstand me, you got me wrong, that’s not what I mean” these are implicitly parts of every conversation, as you and I negotiate with each other on how each of us should be properly understood. So much of it is quiet and unconscious, that it need not come up at all, literally, but only figuratively. This is also the source of much manipulation, deceit, and fun.
My persona-of her stays in me, but it needs to be plugged into her from time to time for her to breathe life into it. I cannot love her memory without plugging it into the real she. Were she to die, I would hold her corpse in my memory. I must grieve to manage that set of memories. Sadness is a mind in change. And to make flowers from the corpse, to make something horrifying into something sweet, this takes the natural alchemy of meditation, contemplation, and years of maturation.
I must present myself to you, my “Me for you,” and if you are standing next to her, my “Me for you” and my “Me for her” combine like colored lenses, making a third “Me for you two.” Shades of light. Thus, by meeting different people, by mixing company, different facets of my I are expressed. My I is otherwise invisible.
Living in the world, most of our thinking is yet imagination of possibilities, for we are acting towards our goals, fantasizing desires till finally we become conscious of them in a plausible shape. In this, tokens are fantastic. A token, a little bit of reality, a “fetish,” or “signifying object” are fantastic in that they make a fantasy plausible, believable, eagerly anticipated. “My church has a chunk of the cross, come see.” We require just a few words as token from our fantasy girl, maybe she could breathe a word of kindness, and we will take that in and mold it into a dream.
For the potential is more interesting than the actual. My sister-in-law won a large sum at lottery, and spent it all on further tickets. And as everybody knows, not merely the miser, we prefer the means of pleasure to the pleasure itself. In this, money is the token by which to fantasize and dream. If I had a million dollars, I would spend very little, but make a bed of it and dream. Better still, I need plausible stories about how the million dollars should and could be mine very shortly, if only I hope. Hope is an opiate – hopium keeps religion profitable.
Thus the Me I give you is mostly cage. I am playing with you. Secretively is an instinct in most mammals, but especially man. Even if I have no guilt or schemes, I tend to secrecy from sheer instinct. Some people commit crimes merely to hold important secrets, feel secretly important, and laugh at those who do not guess at their real importance.
Look into your own Under-mind and he sees you looking for him. He tricks you. He gives you hobgoblins and changelings. Look what he did to Freud and Jung. The under is prankster. Look what he does to your in your dreams. He is a banker and a lover, he is the first god of all the universe, but takes the shape of prankster cupid – and cupidity makes the world go round: both love and money make the glorious orb spin. Love and money are concealed – and collective secrecy is a delight.
All our efforts will be braided by tucking each stream of conscious down again into the soil of memories. Do not drop experience of the We or the Me, for a good Me engine makes uses of all experiences. The man delights in ambition and politics, acquisition and property, and yet this already resided in the child who played and laughed. The man too is in love with play and festivities. For when the desires of the initial Me move the I, those instincts imprint. First impressions are the only impressions. All else are reformed from there. Hardly at all can we hear or see, nor listen to a symphony, but only really hear it maybe once, maybe more, in a lifetime, and the rest is preparation and echoing that one experience. “The mind is All, and matter his mirror” Emerson may have well said.
We find this in the sexual habits, whose final shape depends on their earliest activity. The instinct arises or is shaken awake, and from that first decision, it becomes forever after no instinct but the living habit. You cannot escape your life nor even a second of it. The eternal recurrence: it is all part of you forever. Our youth is our home. Everything grows from this. The braided effort comes back to complicate itself, but never does it negate a stitch. We come to see at last the happy symbol. Atropos will not be turned.
So we may well say before the world, “I am God, and your dismissal of me is your own destruction. I will never shrug nor wrinkle my brow for the faulty judgments of others.” And this thinking is grand and lovely. Yet the world retorts, “If you do not respect our mores of decency, we will despise and outrage you.” Not even God can escape the world.
Language binds. If we fantasize, the events of that fantasy will never be bound without words, labels, and a name to access it. A memory can be purely of concepts, of abstracted ideas, but is yet a memory insofar as it lacks a name, is not itself abstracted, is still bound to a feeling of priorness, and a recallable flow, and abbreviated sign of a chain of events. Until that full chain of abstractions is itself abstracted into a definite and meaningful feeling, then that is merely an experience but not a meaning, not a concept, not an idea.
The I is two hands, and its willing is felt in all the muscles, as a shadow of actual muscular exercise. So too is all desire felt in the body, in the heart and guts, and there is no desire or love felt in the head or behind the eyes. Concepts and logic are seen on the conceptual screen in our field of vision, or they are seemingly unseen until the moment of decision, but they are not felt in the heart and gut—only the desires we affix to them are felt in the soft of the body.
The greatest engines of thought must stream line and automatize into unconscious habits, a series of mental operations, as the evaluator, filter, heirarcher, and builder. Such an engine must be able to swim with unconscious thoughts and fly with the conscious thoughts; it must be amphibious, the frog prince who grabs the golden ball of consciousness from under the well, the demon at the gates, Hermes, border-crosser.
As evaluator, the engine must change the intensity of desire, and thus rank it, rank what affinity the desire has for the center of focus, how much interest it is charged with to sink to the center of awareness.
The conceptual field is like a broad ribbon that curls out from the forehead, and back to the chin. To “see” a concept, paint with your minds finger the letter “L” as you look up before you. Now blink. The “L” will be a white letter burned as an after image upon your retina. In such a way, concepts are always open before us, as open and diverse as our visual field. The concepts are ghosts, dimmer, and are only seen when we activate them, when they are triggered and flash into attention, or when they double a seen object like a halo to give it a catch on our attention. You can easily conceptualize a triangle over this very page of print. It is no longer in the conceptual field, but in the imagination field of memories and narrative) if you enact a dancing fairy flitting over these words. The fairy can be animated merely with a few word to trigger her and tell her what to do, but concepts cannot be told what to do, must be handled and forced to work by will power.
The engine, as amphibian, regulates what memories and concepts, once triggered, are allowed to appear before consciousness. Sometimes this filter is too strict and rigorous, so that we can no longer think wrongly, illegally, sinfully, by which I mean, creatively. Such a person needs a little trauma.
The engines are economical: they want your mind to focus on matters that need special attention, which cannot be solved “by the book” but require a fresh judgment.
Reading a book of philosophy sets the concepts dancing, so that your mind is atoned with the author, for part of the author’s consciousness is forever repeated in his book, and encoded in the material book in your hand. Perhaps you will not derive a single concept from the book other than the overall impression. Even if the book speaks only of abstractions, you may only have a set of memories about reading them, though you have gained no new assumptions.
The concepts cannot work without a visual field to intermingle upon. And see how the environment influences them. Live in the cloudy north and you will think cloudier thoughts, more abstract, more philosophical, less fables, less sun-stories.
You can create new concepts only as well as you can draw on paper. Concepts made by the fingers of thought, the white lines of concept you can see when you blink, use the same art sense as drawing a picture. Learn to draw!
Learn also how to sing. For the heart and moods move by the inner music of the undersong. And this sings in our own singing voice, or upon the strings we play in our internal guitar. Whatever we have poured ourselves into externally defines also the internal: as among us so within us.