The main existential question that has consistently come up in my articles is, now that we have succeeded in protecting ourselves from the dangers involved in living among the intense flowing blendable continual organic stimuli found in more traditional natural environments, how do we deal with the growing numbness found in the more frictionless mediated spaces of modern technological living environments? This article is going to deal with a strategy that people use for confronting numbness that has not been dealt with in my column, at least in this form. It is a strategy that like so many others discussed herein deals with the use of abrasive stimuli to pull a person out of numbness. Except that in this case, all the abrasive stimuli are generated by setting up contradictory identities inside a person. These contradictions are demonstrated by a person performing actions that go totally against the character of his original presentation. A very upstanding member of the clergy is shown to have coerced young members of his congregation into having sex with him. A very conventional successful business person decides to give it all up and join a monastery or become a painter. A mainstream middle-class housewife suddenly decides to leave her family and go off to live with a lover in another country. Now it’s not as if dramatic life changes didn’t occur before the appearance of modern technological society. It just seems that, just as in the case of the indiscriminate shootings today, they are occurring far more frequently than in the past. Much of the time, these life changes may appear random, but there is a kind of method to this apparent madness.
And not all changes in people’s lives today are changes that have this sudden sharp defined discrete flavor to them. Some changes are the more gradual evolutionary changes that have always occurred since traditional times. A person finishes college and goes on to grad school in medicine to become the doctor that he has always dreamed of becoming. Two high school sweethearts finally decide to get married and settle down together. But these changes have little shock value to either the people making these changes in their lives or to the family members and friends who are observing them. They are changes that evolve both publicly and privately out of events, experiences and the human natures that came before them. The changes with which I am concerned in this article are changes that seem quite out of character with the person making them in his life.
What is happening with this strategy of sudden change is that a person wants to pull out of his numbness, away from the experiential vacuum in which he finds himself, but he unfortunately has no sources of friction to rub up against in his external world reality. So, instead, he capitalizes on the fact that none of us has totally coherent natures, and he starts to magnify an aspect of himself that has remained relatively dormant throughout much of his life. This relatively dormant aspect of himself is fully activated and is brought into conflict with another aspect of himself, which has always been energized throughout his life. The person never fully gives up his original self-presentation. And friction is generated as a result of the judgments made by the original presentation, even after he has activated his new self-presentation. On the positive side, the person is able to intermittently pull himself out of his numbness by using this strategy. On the negative side, the conflict between two self-presentations results in the lose of a coherent unitary sense of self and ultimately the loss of grounding in and bonding within oneself. Basically, taking one’s life in a direction for which there is no apparent precedent results in anxiety and instability and frequently involves creating pain for the people around him. They are used to seeing a person and interacting with him in a particular way. The alternate persona that a person creates for himself not only destabilizes the person’s sense of self, but insofar as the person is an important pillar in the lives of his friends and family, his change destabilizes the senses of self of his friends and family as well. This is because the changes make the original person less available for the people around him. The changes are based on a set of assumptions which the friends and family are not prepared for and don’t understand. The changes form an overstimulating tension-pocket for the people surrounding the original person. An overstimulating tension-pocket, that, depending on how important the changer is to the lives of friends and family, can significantly disrupt their lives. And frequently lead to a loss of sense of trust regarding any attempts at closeness or intimacy in the future.