Closet of Belief – Part I

Remember reading this post of mine concerning transparency? Well, it’s not like I’ve forgotten about it. It’s a constant struggle with me, one that seems to ebb and flow as the months and years go by…

One of the reasons I haven’t posted much to speak of in quite a while is that I’ve been doing quite a lot of thinking and more than a little soul searching. It isn’t that this plague is new to me; it’s simply that the landscape I’ve been wandering through is rather vast and the mental contrast is a bit low.

To start with, I’ve been thinking about systems of thought—more specifically, “highly developed” systems of thought like political ideologies, religious doctrine, “the scientific method,” the “engineering process” and other such things. Quite frankly, I’ve been stuck in a quagmire of mild contempt. I’ve decided that at this stage of my life, I have very little tolerance for such systems; more accurately said, I have very little tolerance for blind, arrogant allegiance to such systems.

All of this has one of its roots in the idea of verifiable empirical data, about which I’ve written before. I consider it a great irony that we have been conditioned to consider such data to be the litmus test of truth, when in fact such data is perhaps the one thing that can be most manipulated to pass off falsehood as truth. Facts, figures, data, polls, process and procedure, statistics, sanctioned and ratified interpretations and the like all fit into this idea of “empirical data.”

All of this has another root in the tendency of people to respond to two basic aspects of animal nature: pleasure and fear. That pleasure and fear are the main motivators of people is not an unknown idea; it is not even a lesser known idea. It is common thought. Likewise, it is common thought that verifiable empirical data is manipulated in its use to appeal to pleasure and fear, and thus accomplish the ends of those who wield the data. But what is less common is the recognition that verifiable empirical data itself—indeed, the ideas of “verification” and “empiricism” are themselves informed and constructed by the motivations born of fear and pleasure. The untruth is the claim that there is a readily available, highly developed system that is above all of this and is therefore qualified to judge, manipulate, and abuse those people who are outside of (typically considered “beneath”) that system. Closer to the truth is that the system itself is at least somewhat flawed, and that blind buy-in to all of its claims is already always in error.

This error now seems to obvious to me that I’m not sure what to do about it, nor why so many of us are willing to be victim to it. But I tend to think that, no surprise, it has to do with fear and pleasure. Buying into a system with little or no critical questioning brings a certain protection from fear, and a certain appropriation of pleasure, be they from gaining access to (or avoiding exclusion from) a particular social group, or perhaps from avoiding the pain of introspective thought, or what-have-you. Whatever the case may be, I’ve been thinking that I’m about done and finished with battling such systems. I’m about ready to raise a white flag, and my new mantra become a couldn’t-be-less-interested, Yeah. Okay. Whatever.

But this leads to the second thing I’ve been thinking about at length, which is the inferred buy-in that apathy and silence allow. Although most of these thoughts are nothing new for me, the somewhat less-old thought is that I don’t think I want to be guilty by association anymore. I’m tired of idiotic paths in science and engineering. I’m tired of political platforms and ideologies that are moronic and embarrassing and insulting. I’m tired of doctrinal systems that justify all manner of greed, selfishness, hatred, injustice and like evils. I’m tired of the common occurrence of people presuming that by my silence I share in, or at least offer tacit approval if, their views in any of these areas. And most of all, I’m tired of the inescapable conclusion that I am living a fundamentally dishonest life by allowing such presumptions to arise and continue. It’s as I’m living in a closet of beliefs. And I have to say, my trembling hand is wrapped around the door knob, and my knuckles are turning white.

Now, this gets me to thinking about the more common, pop-culture use of the term “coming out of the closet,” and although I don’t pretend to fully understand the difficulties that people of varying orientations face in doing so, in a certain sense all of these concepts can be grouped together. Some of us live in one or more closets of belief; those things we believe about ourselves, about the world, about the Divine, about politics, about family and friendship and love, and all manner of things. We keep them closeted and locked away—because of fear and pleasure. At some level, we are fundamentally different from our closest associates, and it breeds a tremendous, horrific, deeply unsettling and sometimes incapacitating fear surrounding the threat of us being “found out.” I wonder if the fear and trepidation of coming out of all such closets is largely the same.

At any rate, I fear telling people what I really think and/or feel about things—about what my opinions really are with respect to various matters . I’ve been that way all of my life; since I was a little kid. I understand intellectually that it’s a fear of being rejected and a loss of the pleasure one gets from feeling like you belong with the people around you, and that you’re accepted by them. But I also understand intellectually, quite clearly, that this is completely senseless. The nagging reality is that if all those people you hide from aren’t seeing the real you, then it isn’t you they are supposedly loving and accepting. In the effort to apprehend true, genuine love and acceptance, you are making each completely impossible. This is one of human life’s more unsettling ironies of the human psyche: in the pursuit of love, we make of ourselves a fiction, and since love is truth, our fiction makes being loved impossible.

I know this. I know this. To the very core of my being, I know this. I can remember thinking as a teenager, “you know, if somebody really loves you, there isn’t a thing in a world you can do make them stop, and if somebody doesn’t love you, then there’s not a thing you can do to make them.” I’ve known this for years and years and years. And yet, I persist in my stasis.

And so a third thing I’ve been thinking is that I can only deduce that within me is a deep, primal, irrational, instinctive, pathological, call-it-what-you-will overwhelming fear that I have yet, in decades, to overcome. I’m an insightful person. I’m a deeply introspective person. I’m a well educated person. I’m a reasonably intelligent person. I’m a good-hearted and well-meaning person who wants to experience humanity in the fullness of its promised freedom and peace. I want to be open. I want to be seen. I want to be known. And I want to be loved in all of that transparency. And yet, I cannot kill this monster inside my head.

But maybe, just maybe, if nothing else, simply mentioning the beast is the first few degrees of rotation of the closet’s doorknob. I’ve optimistically suffixed the title of this post with “Part I,” as if there are more parts to follow.

Time will tell, but for now the Monster is simply eyeing me with a complacent, challenging, half-smile. He doesn’t seem scared at all.

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