Re-examaning the premises.

If I got anything of value out of my college education, it came from a sociology class I took as an elective. Not from the class material directly, but the professor, who was very wise and should have been teaching someplace like Harvard or something. He didn’t think that I was crazy for thinking of reality as a much over-rated social convention. In fact, he thought I was pretty sociologically smart, and he pointed me towards a couple books that scientificalized and expanded on the things I already thought. Suddenly instead of being a square peg in the round hole of the psychology program, I was round. I was so round I was the hole.

When I learn things that I already think I tend to forget the specifics. Cause, really, it’s just what I already know. So I don’t remember anything specific about what I learned, I just came away from it with a knowledge that what I think is legitimatized by the world of social academia. It’s certainly possible that I’m really far off of what the world of social academia really says, but I don’t remember it that way.

We all have premises that underlie our most basic understandings of ourselves and our worlds. Sometimes they make sense, sometimes they don’t, and most of the time we don’t even know about them. Example? Plucked from Yahoo! News:

A bus driver threatens to throw a woman off the bus because she is too sexy. The bus company tells the media “…he did the right thing. A bus driver cannot be distracted because it’s a danger to the safety of all the passengers.”

Hopefully this sounds crazy to you. But if you adopt the premises that women should not dress that way anyway, and that women are responsible for men’s attraction and subsequent behavior, it makes perfect sense.

Here’s another one grabbed from the top of Yahoo! News:

Harry Potter star Daniel Radcliffe gains access to a reported 20 million pounds ($40 million) fortune when he turns 18 on Monday, but he insists the money won’t cast a spell on him.

Normal, right? But there are premises involved. First that $40 million constitutes a fortune. Second that the money should cast a spell on him. Third, more generally, that money does cast spells on people. Maybe these premises are true in our present reality. If people do act that way though, is it because it is that way or because they’ve been told it’s that way?

Let’s get even more subtle. I read about this study once. They took a bunch of mothers of newborn babies, and they showed them a video of a little baby dressed in a blue outfit playing with a jack in the box. When the jack popped out of the box, the baby yelled and kicked and screamed. The researchers asked the mothers what the baby was feeling, and the mothers said, “Oh the little baby boy is mad!”

Then they took another group of mothers of newborn babies and showed them a video of the same baby doing the same thing dressed in a little pink outfit. They asked the mothers what the baby was feeling, and the mothers said, “Aw, the poor little girl is scared.”

You know what this means? From babyhood we’re taught to understand our feelings by other people’s reactions. When you yelled and cried as a baby and your parents held you and said, “Awww, poor baby, it’s okay, don’t be scared” you learned that what you were feeling was fear and that comfort was the appropriate response (hopefully, your brain also learned to use this experience as a kind of baseline to give you the ability to calm yourself as an adult). Or if when you yelled and cried your parents laughed and said, “Look how mad he is! He’s such a little man!” you learned that what you were feeling was anger and was rather admirable.

As an adult, you still experience these emotions in the way they were framed for you as a baby. So this is a very basic premise, that a certain feeling equals fear or trauma or needing to be held or anger or proof of your manhood.

The premises that I grew up with were pretty fucked up, so I’ve done my best to re-examine them. I can’t really change them, but I can re-learn them from myself, the woods, books, and people.

People are rather un-reliable. I can’t really control how they’re going to affect my premises. Often it’s good, but if it’s bad there’s not really much I can do about it (except to examine it consciously). More often, though, it’s not good or bad: it just is. Like when I hang out with my traveling stripper friends talking about clubs all over the world and I start thinking about how much money I could be saving and I want to travel and dance forever. Or when I hang out with social worker people and start thinking about all the things I could be doing, am maybe even obligated to be doing, for people. Or when I chat on anti-civ message boards and start thinking about all the things I could be doing in that arena. All these situations give me premises on which I could base my life. If it weren’t for moving around so much and constantly removing myself from and examining these premises, I probably would base my life on whichever one I happened to be most exposed to.

I’m not saying that any of them are bad, good, true, or false. I am saying I don’t know. What I do believe is that our premises should be examined, and that the premises that you base your whole life on should be based on what you love. Love your family? Take care of them, but examine your taking care premise. Love salmon? Save them from their pending extinction. Love the river? Spend your life loving it.

Another thing I know is that premises that come from the woods are true, because the woods and the river are the realest, truest things in the world. So I go to the woods and wait for new premises to come, and wait for them to get strong enough to survive our culture.

Except that I’m not in the woods. I’ve been in a strip club for the last 14 days straight (I think. I’m really shitty at keeping track of time). I think my premises are starting to get a little out of hand.

So, tomorrow (which is today because of my backwards schedule – it’s actually almost 6am) I’m off to the woods for some good premises.


  1. I like this post. Very true. When I get confused about what I’m doing or supposed to be doing, I try to get to the fundamental questions. I like the idea of using the natural world as the ultimate premise of being. Very phenomenological, miss hobostripper.

  2. Enjoy your journey to becoming human again ( i.e. the woods) . Working too much definitely throws people off balance.

    I have really enjoyed reading your blog and thoughts !

  3. The woods are good. I hope you have enough time to take a few long deep breaths there before moving on to the next place.

    I wonder if you could get a few pages of temporary tattoos made up with the grown-in logo. I bet you could sell ’em to cover the costs of having them for yourself, if someone does that sort of thing.

  4. Good stuff, and true. Sometimes I look up and realize I don’t like what I’m doing with my life and I’m only doing it because it’s what I’ve been lately. If I make sense. On the other hand, for me sometimes it’s hard to sort out legitimate restlessness from sheer fickleness. Anyway, great post.

  5. This is a great post. Lately, I’ve been having conversations here and there ’round the blogosphere than center on the rather fucked-up perception that women are responsible for others’ reactions, and/or women’s experiences are not defined by the women themselves but rather by other people (usually men). And what’s the most distressing about it is often it’s self-identified progressives and feminists making these statements.

    I really think a lot of this stuff is so deeply ingrained that the depth to which we need to unpack it is almost unattainable for some people. I say “almost” because I’m an eternal optimist who believes nothing is *totally* impossible, given a solid commitment!

  6. Amber, I’ve been watching your conversations and loving the hell out of how clearly you articulate things. The global unpacking is so hard to acheive because everyone needs to do it on their own and everyone needs to do it together and it’s this big mess.

  7. If you haven’t read this already, i would suggest you have a look at a book called “The Mastery of Love” Ignore the suspect title suggesting its about romantic relationships, as its about a lot more than that. I won’t go on in case you have read it, but its particularly relative to peoples “truths” in situations. Its an Aztec concept of reality and perception.
    My growing concern or optimism for the future of our society changes from day to day. A concept that i feel seems to be at the root of so many issues regarding perception is that ultimately the majority of our society seems to be growing further and further away from the understanding that we are inevitably responsible for our own reactions, perceptions and interpretations to the situations that occur in our lives. There a blaming and righteous indignation of the “me, me, me” generation. Some days I long for simpler days, less lifestyle advance. All the world’s a wood so to speak! I would like to go on but its something that i find almost impossible to start writing about without me needing to turn it in to an essay! So ill leave it at that for now

  8. great post…
    I wish I had the time and energy to try and get my thoughts out on the page
    it is great to share your thoughts
    as well as to develop your thoughts

    you are a good writer with some great ideas

    I enjoyed the post

    good luck being a stripper and traveling the world forever
    chances are there will be a young and able freshman class ready to take your time slot well before you are available to apply for your AARP card

    have fun while it lasts
    make as much money while you can

    save some money
    enjoy some money
    don’t let the money cast a spell on you

  9. Where I believe you hit the nail on the head is: “there’s not really much I can do about it (except to examine it consciously).” That’s the one thing that works for me in taking over my own life. I come from a dramatically dysfunctional (dys- functional = not working) background, and I have found my way out of it by self-examination. My version of that is the 12 Steps; do what works for you.

  10. there is no spoon

    examine your base premises about everything, not just the obvious, but the stuff right in front of your nose, under your feet.

    what do you really know:

    money, what it is, why it exists, what is a “dollar” or a “reserve note”

    what is “value” who decides?

    what is property?

    what does “law” mean?

    what is a state, or country, why do we believe they exist, are they real or imaginary is there another way to organize the interests of a group or individuals?

    what are “rights”?

    what is love, realy.

    what is good and evil, is it good or evil that a cat like a mouse?
    does it exist?

    why do we feel emotions, what is the purpose of emotions, do we need them?

    how does the brain really work, how do you know?

    is the idea of “the meaning of life” an important idea, or is it a panic reaction to our inevitable demise?

    do we really have to die, what if we don’t.

    what if most everything we believe is wrong?

    what is cognitive dissonance?

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