To Harness the Imagination, Feed It Better.

Thursday, April 29, 2021

Responding to a pair of letters from couples with marital problems, Captain Awkward comes very close to essentializing a problem-solving strategy I have seen on her blog a few times before, and it stands out to me because I have noticed that acquaintances I deem to be worry-warts frequently share two characteristics: (1) They are fixated on some real or imagined catastrophe; and (2) They are remarkably ignorant about the nature of said catastrophe and realistic options for dealing with it, or at least mitigating the damage.

The following two paragraphs fairly well encapsulate the solution:

Image by Brett Jordan, via Unsplash, license.
Envisioning and planning for the scariest realistic outcome is like clocking where the emergency exits are: You hope you'll never have to use that information, but mapping scary situations (Emergency!) to possible actions you can take (Go to the nearest emergency exit!) can help you put them in perspective and remind yourself that you have options, options that include leaving a situation that is causing you pain. Staying and working on a relationship knowing that you could survive and rebuild after a breakup is a different prospect than staying because you feel like there's no other choice.

Working through options and generating possible actions is a means of harnessing your imagination to work for you to solve problems (instead of just generating new disasters for a change), and being as specific, concrete, and real as possible has a way of clarifying what your boundaries and needs truly are. "I'll agree to almost anything to avoid being alone even if I know it would be bad for me, but I won't pretend to like it" is a bad negotiating position, and compromises forged in fear, willful avoidance, resentment, and desperation rarely hold. At minimum, an honest reckoning with your options -- including the shitty ones -- can save you from expending energy pretending to consider compromises that you already know won't serve and then causing even more pain and disruption when one or both of you inevitably goes back on promises you made under duress. [link and emphasis in original]
The mapping out of options is very concrete, as the reader can tell from the rest of the post. The take-home, though, is that doing this kind of homework turns the imagination into an ally, rather than a further source of stress.

A brief observation...

This advice has ramifications far beyond relationship problems, or even personal problems: It is directly related to the sad state of our politics and culture, and reminds me a bit of the book Fake Invisible Catastrophes and Threats of Doom, which Alex Epstein recently discussed with its author, Patrick Moore.

That conversation had already left me impressed with the way the egalitarian media-cultural establishment has basically found a way to push dogma absent a "god of the gaps:" Make new gaps, and hide them behind the curtains of "science."

But the post I discussed above helps me see another aspect of the problem: The "if it bleeds it leads" school of journalism and social media algorithms work hand-in-hand to fixate the more mentally passive members of the public on unfounded dire predictions, having to take the word (accurately framed and relayed or not) of experts.

At the same time, "journalists" and power-lusting politicians will happily spoonfeed them wildly impractical "solutions" based tenuously on only a small subset of the relevant facts. This leads directly to the kinds of stress seen in that post: Large numbers of people are convinced we are headed for an unverified worst-case scenario and see neither alternate scenarios nor truly viable options. There is even a name for this: eco-anxiety.

Many people do not have the scientific training to determine the validity of the doomsday scenarios that crowd our media, nor the time to carefully consider the "solutions" being proposed as legislation at breakneck speed.

This is, of course, the kind of problem that demands a response from intellectuals who can make the relevant issues and options understandable to laymen. Regarding the green anti-energy agenda, Epstein and Moore are two of them, and Epstein has been interviewing others lately.

Anyone wanting to combat the green agenda or help others get past eco-anxiety would do well to look at Epstein's Power Hour podcast: He has been interviewing quite a few such intellectuals lately, and several have made the kinds of arguments we will need to defend ourselves from those who would have us panic, as one catastrophist famously put it, to the revealing approval of others in her camp.

-- CAV

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