I really appreciate Gary Sharpe‘s perspective on the emotional side of what people face. He has a wealth of excellent advice and I was pleased to have the opportunity to do this Q&A.
Gary Sharpe’s Articles
Q & A
One of the threads I’m currently following is the Culture Wars, and how the public has been largely divided into a multitude of different ideologies that can often perceive each other as an existential danger. This itself seems to be a massive stressor that drives much of the strife people experience these days.
From your perspective, what would be effective ways people can deescalate the cultural tensions without necessarily “giving up ground”?
I ask this because, it’s starting to take more of my attention. I’ve been filtered into my own ideology, and I can certainly feel a limit to what kinds of people I can plausibly reach or even communicate with. Initially I had more hope that this would be resolved over time, but if anything it’s only gotten worse and worse.
Appreciate your thoughts!
Gary: “That’s a Big Question, and I wish I had the answer. Firstly, I agree with you that the Culture Wars are stressful for everyone. I also suspect that the powers-that-be are fomenting them on purpose, as part of classic divide-and-rule tactics.
The basic problem is, when we are in a fearful, or stressed, state, which as you say the Culture War itself induces and maintains, our psychological and physiological states shift markedly from when we are in a calm, relaxed state, when we feel safe.
In particular, from Dr Iain McGilchrist’s work, we know that we lose access to the right hemisphere of our brain’s way of attending to the world. In this state, we can be totally delusional, and very rigid in our black and white thinking, utterly believe our own lies and construct halls-of-mirrors against receiving new or challenging information.
From Dr Stephen Porges’ work we know we also lose access to our social engagement system, including the loss of the ability to read other people, and become literally unable to tune in to other voices, and so we tend to see “others” from outside our tribe as dangerous threats.
Indeed, recent advances in psychology show the brain is essentially a predicting organ, and when the reality of the world doesn’t match its predictions, it has to resolve the contradiction. It can do this in one of two ways: delude itself and ignore reality, or update itself and its predictions. In the stressed state, we tend to opt for the delusion, as new or countering information can induce a significant danger response in of itself: this threatens our own identity or world view, and shifts in these can be traumatic.
So the pragmatic answer to your question is when people are already triggered, it is probably not worth the energy trying to connect or get through to them [with facts and figures] The “not giving up ground” part of the question is probably part of the answer: to be able to be together, but agree not to discuss religion/ideology or politics if this triggers each other! One of the issues, however, is how every topic of conversation has become political.
*“Every topic becoming political” - sadly, that’s a big part of the problem. Language itself has become politicized and the decision to use/not use particular words is effectively signalling affiliation in many ways. I think a lot of it comes down to trust. I really like this video about a game called The Evolution of Trust.
The simulation concludes that three things are required for the evolution of trust:
- repeated interactions
- possible win-wins
- low miscommunication
I’m not sure what can be done about the first two, but on the third item I have continuously worked to try to be clear as possible, with varying degrees of success.
Gary: On the trust and win-win topic, have you come across the work of Liv Boeree she has been thinking about this and how to overcome the lose-lose forces of “Molloch”.
Many online communities that are pleasant to be a part of aren’t actually tolerant, but rather merely one of many echo-chambers of like-minded individuals.
In Corbett’s Media Matrix documentary he cites that since the introduction of television, offline social interaction has been on the decline.
I think the biggest change in our era is that online interactions aren’t merely an additional layer on top of regular human-to-human interaction, can be an alternative, especially for those who lack friends & family.
Would you say that itself is the problem, or is it something that we could handle better?
Gary: According to the work of Dr Stephen Porges, “real life” social interactions and social engagement is vital for humans to flourish. This is why putting someone into solitary isolation in prisons is the worse form of punishment, and considered a method of torture. It is also why loneliness is the biggest predictor of fast decline of conditions like Parkinson’s or dementia.
Online social engagement can provide some of these needs, but can not replace it completely, because it is missing some important “nourishing” elements, such as body language and touch. This is why zoom calls can be exhausting, whereas positive social engagement in real life can be restorative, and energy giving.
I feel like this explains a great deal of why people are constantly kept in fear. There is much to be concerned about, but I think much of the fearmongering is to find ways to prevent people from seeing win-win scenarios. I spent much of 2020/2021 in fear, not of the virus, but what the state would/could do over it.
While there was definitely serious overreach, and incredible harms done in the response I’m not sure being consumed by fear improved my ability to handle it. In your opinion, what are some good ways to handle rational fear that goes too far?”
Gary: I heard something which resonated with me on this just yesterday “fear is the worry that you are going to be less safe in the future than you are right now”. So the problem with being stuck in chronic fear is that we exile ourselves from even feeling safe in the now, even when there really is no imminent or proximate danger. Fear does keep us divided and distracted, and I agree this is being used on purpose by those who seek to control everything and everyone.
On the fear that comes with “waking up” to what is really going on the world, I have seen a common arc, including in myself, similar to what you describe. At first, it is not only terrifying, but also going down the rabbit holes can be addictive. So we get very scared, but also keep ourselves in the fear by constantly staring into the abyss.
Then we start to feel a need to do something about it, to become solution oriented, begin to focus on resistance and finding like minded people, and a sense safety in numbers. We then begin to pay less attention to the day-to-day minutiae of what the elites are up to and start building alternative systems.
I have watched daily youtubers like Richard Vobes and Dr John Campbell going through these stages in real time. It might like the stages of grief, so it might actually be necessary to go through the fear stage, in order to get to the other side.
You’ve hit an important point! There really does seem to be an addictive component. This is often pathologized to dismiss people’s very real concerns, but I can’t help but wonder if that element serves a real purpose. In your mind, what do you think specifically makes it addictive?
I’ve seen the mainstream argue it’s because it’s just selfish people who want to feel better than everyone else. In my experience this doesn’t match up to reality as many of the other people I’ve encountered on this journey are some of the least selfish I’ve met.
I do think the fact that it’s even possible is a marvel to itself, it’s a testament to how useful a free and open web can be.
Gary: When we are stressed or threatened, we go through a defence cascade of escalating responses. First a startle or orienting response, that takes us either back to calm, or to a fight-flight type response. If the flight-fight response isn’t successful at ameliorating the threat, we then escalate into a rigid type of freeze, or playing dead, response, and if that doesn’t work we end up fainting or in a floppy type of freeze response.
Many of the threats that our nervous system perceives in the modern world are not ones we can fight or run away from. So a lot of people are stuck partially in a freeze response, with various levels of dysfunction. By putting ourselves into states of anger or functional fear, e.g. by focussing on an “enemy” that we can fight as “keyboard warriors”, we can temporarily bump ourselves out of the freeze response back into a fight-flight response, by generating internal dopamine and adrenaline.
Being in fight-flight allows us to be temporarily more functional in the world, and while this is not a healthy state to be in long term either, it feels generally less unpleasant and uncomfortable than being in freeze, so it is preferable for a lot of people.
Of course, like all addictions, using the Culture Wars or taking ourselves down the scary rabbit holes as our way of choice for getting the dopamine/adrenaline fix ends up needing more and more extreme stimulus for it to work and have the effect. Eventually we need to move out of the fear, into a more creative stage, becoming solution orientated and helping to build alternatives.
Thank you so much for this, I greatly appreciate it and the answers themselves.
If you haven’t read any of Gary’s writing, I’d highly recomment the following: