Greetings from Paradise West:
My body arrived back in Santa Barbara on 6 June. My mind is still floating around out there in cyberspace somewhere. It must be in cyberspace because it is neither here nor there. Prior trips ended with a surreal period also, but previously it seemed more like being a Ping-Pong ball bouncing back and forth between home base and the exotic experiences just ended. This time it feels like I never left… like a different person spent three months on a journey through 18 countries while “I” remained here, glued to my keyboard.
Santa Barbara is not a bad place for the body to hibernate for a while, situated as it is between low coastal mountains and the protective Channel Islands, a place where the weather remains idyllic nearly all year long and the pace of life is relaxed and leisurely. Of course paradise doesn’t come cheap. Big Macs are $3.95 and housing is outrageously expensive: an average single family house hovers somewhere around four hundred and fifty thousand dollars. Still, those of us who have been here for a while manage one way or another.
In my last missive from Belfast I see I promised to share any startling insights I might develop on my return. Most of my reflections are still so ill formed and confusing I hesitate to say anything for fear it will sound like so much noise. Still, there are things to be said, ideas to be examined, and conclusions to be tested.
For example, no longer are far away places with strange sounding names capable of evoking the same sense of awe, of mystery as they were in earlier times. Television news broadcasts about the latest trouble spot in the world no longer congers up mysterious visions of unpredictable savage people, driven by primitive rituals to perpetrate inhuman acts on other equally strange kinds of human beings. I now know the stories are about people just like me and my Santa Barbara neighbors, people who most of the time lead relatively uneventful lives, but who are capable of being provoked into the most atrocious acts given the right circumstances.
It has become clear to me that the terrible things I see happening in, say Kosovo, are in important ways just like the terrible things which happen right here in California, right here in Santa Barbara. Every region, every neighborhood, every family has its share of “nut cases” as one Protestant guy in Belfast put it.
For me now, every news story is about someplace familiar, like the closest town just down the road – stories about people that I or some of my friends actually know. Suddenly there are no “others,” just a whole world of “us’s.” There are no Slavic nations full of monsters who enjoy killing babies, just ordinary people like us trying to do what they think is best for their families, their neighborhoods and their nation. We all have power hungry or demented or misguided individuals among us, people capable of the most unspeakable acts, people driven by religious or ethnic hatred or by greed, psychopaths and sociopaths. The challenge for everyone is to discover ways of limiting the harmful actions of those few who reflect badly on the harmless majority.
Cognitive dissonance. I am here in my chrysalis enjoying the serene quiet, trying to figure out where fate might be leading me this time. It seems my life has once again passed through a Hindu Caterpillar phase; a seemingly endless wheel of rebirth eventually leading to some sort of metamorphoses I suppose. I’ve been here before, here in the chrysalis… waiting to break out and stretch my wings, only to discover in the eventual light of freedom to have emerged once again as a caterpillar. Each time I have cocooned myself before, I’ve rejoined the human race eventually with some new appreciation of reality and the activities of others also trying to figure out what it all means. Not in the sense of the Pine Processionary Caterpillar, which blindly follows any fuzzy fellow ahead of him without regard to destination or condition. Rather, as from afar, with perspective and appreciation of both successes and failures.
This particular time in the quiet capsule I have been digging deeply into the nature of human intelligence (the g-factor), evolutionary psychology, behavioral genetics, eugenics, the origins of ethnic conflict and conflict management science (not conflict resolution which is useless with some intractable human problems), and the virtues of blind faith. I’ve also gotten most of my loose notes from the “Russian” adventure transcribed. By now though, I’d hoped to have all my pictures from the trip available in the private part of my website. But alas, I’ve made only meager progress with that task.
Communicating without much of the other’s language is a lot easier than most of us realize. Much of what is in our minds shows clearly in our body language, facial expressions, tone of voice, and most importantly from the situation itself. Attire and manner of dress say a lot about who and what we are (as Shakespeare noted in Hamlet). Circumstances of the two people trying to communicate say a lot about the subject being discussed: a very poor man might know nothing about the simplest high finance matter. A rich man might have no idea what the poor fellow is doing when he is “trashing.”
Reading world news in the paper or watching TV news is no longer the remote, abstract experience it used to be. Most of the news is about people and places I know personally. News anywhere is about my personal neighborhood – places I’ve lived, about my friends – people I know. Little by little the “other” is disappearing from my awareness. I have truly begun to feel like we are all one, like we are all members of the same family. Now, having said that, I must quickly add that I also see big differences among people in any group. It is easy to see that I have a lot more in common with a Russian computer freak than either of us has with any other category of person in either of our cultures. Rich Americans are more like rich Russians than other Americans of whatever means. Looking at the aggregate characteristics of any national, cultural or ethnic group, I find it difficult to see significant differences among the many examples around the world. Superficial differences between groups are less pronounced than significant differences among individuals within any one group.
Old friends are comfortable, comforting. They are familiar, reasonably predictable… sharing common memories, values. Old friends are like family members. Old friends provide the nourishment that makes our roots strong. Old friends justify our confidence that the future holds promise of more good times.
New friends are exciting, unpredictable. New friends arouse us, stimulate our senses and make us think in ways unfamiliar. New friends always know things we don’t, insuring that we will surely add to our wealth of knowledge. New friends see the world differently than we do and help us clarify our own thinking on matters long neglected. New friends often disappear as fast as they were discovered. New friends are discovered in the most surprising places, sometimes even in the shadows of our lives.
Allies have a stake in our success and well being. Allies may or may not be friends, though they usually are or eventually become friends. Allies encourage us, help us to succeed in whatever we might choose to do. Allies see our goals as in harmony with their own. Allies let others know of our virtues, deflecting attention away from our weaknesses. Allies enjoy a symbiotic relationship with one another.
Are there more followers than leaders in every population? Most people are neither conservative nor liberal, but just follow the crowd. The conservatives see the good in the momentum moving the crowd. Liberals see the shortcomings of its current direction and act to change it. Conservatives are mostly satisfied and work to keep things as they are. Liberals are mostly dissatisfied; the rest of us tend to vacillate between the two extremes, never in either condition long enough to become radicalized.
Is there anything in what I am learning that can be a source of inspiration for other people? Where does love and understanding, hope and faith fit in?
Is there any evidence to support my hypothesis that motivated extreme elements define the operational characteristics of a population?
Why do I travel alone so much? That is a frequent question I hear when returning from one of my adventures. My answer always includes the observation that some of the places I visit have reputations for being dangerous and I would not want to expose someone else to any possible problems. Rarely though, do I ever actually experience any eminent danger myself. Then, unlike most other people I know, I enjoy the novelty of jumping off into situations where I really have no idea how I am going to manage. No language, no hotel, no food, no medical help, no map, etc. become delicious challenges to be met and savored. I would not want to be responsible for another soul’s well being under such circumstances, nor do most normal people want to participate in such craziness. Finally, I get a sense of absolute freedom as I move from one fresh moment to another… rarely needing to worry about the needs of another person. But, don't I get lonely? Absolutely, at least once or twice on every trip… usually during a spectacularly magnificent dinner in a romantic restaurant with unforgettable views. The loneliness itself is a memorable experience as I think about all the wonderful people I love and appreciate around the world and at home.
What do we know about the earliest awareness of consciousness during the development of the human fetus? During a guided imagery experience my spirit guide told me that I return to where I came from when I die. If we go into a state of infinite time awareness as we die, did we come from a similar state during the gestation period?
Seeking the truth is from a deeper drive than feeling good. Feeling good has a lot to do with what and how we believe and the “what” is much less important than the “how.” Believing that we are loved is much more important than by whom. Beliefs which inspire are life enhancing. (Is there medical research evidence for that assertion?)
Is faith the same thing as trust? Is faith the absence of anxiety-worry?
What are the physiological effects of certainty, of absolute faith, of blind faith?
What is the relationship between faith and confidence? What is the opposite of faith? (Uncertainty, skepticism, confusion?) How would the lives of a true believer and a faithless person differ?
Arousal has as much to do with beliefs as with sensory stimulation (e.g. the effects of porno films.) sexual arousal is only one admittedly dramatic example of arousal (Check the Internet for other obvious examples. There must be an enormous body of work dealing with psychophysical arousal.) What is the connection between faith/belief and arousal? People get “turned on” by the widest variety of thoughts and sensory stimulation. How does auto-arousal differ from that stimulated by external agents?
How can everything be both predetermined by natural laws on the one hand and accidental-random on the other, and both at the same time?
Fred L Bellomy