Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Small Shames, part the second



When I showed this to my friend Graham Lackey last night he said "I like that these small shames are so small, because they are perfectly relatable, and perhaps seeing a small thing like this given time and care in art airs it in a useful way."

The single-panel page is the perfect format for an examination of a single moment, because its timespan is negotiable. Like a nagging memory that keeps coming back to you in inopportune moments, its importance and interaction with the whole only as severe as your subconsciousness demands. Small shames aren't small because we hide them under the carpet, where they accumulate to something bigger. Their denominator is the same. The phantasmal perfect lives of the perfect people we like to use as an excuse do not exist. Even worse, we like to extrapolate from the comfortable "dude what are you bitching about, there's children dying in the third world and you're worried you ignored a taxi driver?" because against that Spectacular misery ours seems farcical. Then we go on to loathe ourselves for feeling self-loathing.

-Helm

15 comments:

Nick said...

"Even worse, we like to extrapolate from the comfortable "dude what are you bitching about, there's children dying in the third world and you're worried you ignored a taxi driver?" because against that Spectacular misery ours seems farcical. Then we go on to loathe ourselves for feeling self-loathing."

That reminds me quite a lot the "Dude,lots of people or starving or have some fatal illness, you have everything ,you are healthy and you feel depressed/sad?"

It never worked for me to think of someone that is objectively(?) in a more miserable state, it doesn't make me feel any better. Of course the "It could be worse" concept has some validity.

Helm said...

Yeah one of the worst things you can say to a depressed person is that he's obligated to cheer up because other people have it worse.

I think sadness is not measurable like physical pain is. Somebody can have everything and still feel fundamentally morose to the point of suicide. The workings of the psyche do not correspond as directly to the economical lifestyle people have, no matter how aggressively the opposite is lobbied by our consumerist society.

Dominika said...

What a great, great idea for a series! So simple and so poignant.

I have to admit I appreciate it a lot that the text on the picture is so simple, just stating the fact - nothing more. I am not sure, if I agree with your comments below the previous post. Most of all I wouldn't concentrate on judging such behaviour (or judging the people who rationalize to get rid of thet shame), i would be more interested in finding out, what precisely is stopping us from interaction with those people.

Basically in both cases it's a situation of an inner conflict. One impulse tells us to act, the other not to. Of course it would be more "right, moral and polite" to act but that dosn't mean that the oposite impulse is bad in itself. And I think that everybody has the right to take care of themselves: for instance if sb. is afraid to talk to a stranger, he/she shouldn't push himself/herself, unless the situation is evident (sb. is bleeding).

Again, it's a great idea. I keep thinking about it and my own "small shames".

Helm said...

This is about myself, not about judging other people. I have already made my decisions and resolutions in regards to my shames and I am trying to move through them with this and other means.

I wouldn't push anyone to do anything unless I knew them deeply and I was very certain I was right. This sort of art is a catalyst for ingressive movements that are already happening. In moral terms, it's not prescriptive, it's descriptive. Everyone gets from this what they are ready to get.

Thank you for the comments. I am going to start working on the third image today or tomorrow. I keep putting off making a bio page, I am not sure why. Something subconscious, I guess.

Anonymous said...

It's concerning that we are so often scared of engaging in conversation with fellow self-aware beings in favor of comfort. We would rather have a screen wall between us and reality than indulge in it.

Helm said...

I agree and I think if you also agree with yourself, you should pick a name and a stable identity online so people know they're talking to a human being and not the nebulous representation of commonality that is 'Anonymous'. I think it starts with a name, yes.

Solar said...

Have to agree, great series.

The power to choose can sometimes be paralysing. Often it is easier to do nothing and pretend the choice never existed. Thus small shames are born at every inaction.

Determinists revel in reminding others that there was never a choice, just a series of events that predetermine the situation in front of you. My main retort to this is that we can reflect on those moments and adjust our behaviour accordingly, to learn and alter. While determinists can reply ad infinitum that that is simply another determinant, the empirical fact remains that not everyone learns and alters at the same rate, our choice is applied to learning too. While determinists might 'win' in the end, the human mind does not cope well with an infinite regression of facts; it has soft edges and deals in concepts and ideas. Simply the idea that a positive difference could have been made if you had acted differently is something that needs to be dealt with, often internally, to continue with a sense of contentment. Many many people choose never to spent that time reflecting on themselves or their actions, or if they do then not constructively.

The statement 'think about the people starving in africa' is a weak effort at encouraging reflection. There are many reasons why it is impractical and irrelevant. However, any effort to cause reflection has some value.

Therefore it brings me great pleasure to see such delicate and poignat efforts visual form.

Bravo Helm!

Helm said...

Welcome back, Solar. Sorry if I don't get around to replying to all your recent comments.

I am a determinist. These series for me are not about feeling regret that I didn't do what I should have done then as much as they are about internalizing the feeling so it acts like a catalyst when I am in a similar situation in the future. The rhetoric might be different but the end result between determinists and free will thinkers in this case is similar. However if anything the free will thinker will torment themselves over not having done the right thing in the past much more because there are no extenuating circumstances that can alleviate the guilt. Theoretically for them they should be able to make the right choice at all times if 'they try hard enough'... whatever that would entail.

And you're right that it bottlenecks at reflection either way. Finding the right mental space in which to handle your feelings and channel them pro-actively. Easier said than done, given how many little things happen each that that affect ones mental composure. We live in fast times and we've been trained to be impatient, as if every second we don't spend entertaining ourselves somehow is a second wasted. Sweeping emotional turmoil under the rug and consuming products created by people that rutinely do their own sweeping. It's no wonder we might find outrselves in a place where we should theoretically feel great about everything - given how much entertainment we consume - but yet we hate ourselves by degrees.

Solar said...

Re: the torment of a free thinker. Feeling bad about a choice and knowing what that choice means are vastly different and often mutually exclusive.

Seeing that a mistake has been made does not always bring feelings of guilt. Similarly feelings of guilt are not always because of a mistake.

I don't actually think, as humans we can aspire to either ideal of pure free thinking or determinism. Our minds simply cannot hold every eventuality before and after an event to even contemplate the determinants or be aware of all the choices.

Therefore it is very interesting; the idea of internalising the feeling of an event, that the active process could in some way act as a positive (if that is even the right word) determinant toward a similar future event. In some way you are choosing to affect a similar situation in the future by a form of passive internalised determinates. The barrier I always reach in determinism is that if you were going to do something it was always going to happen, even if that very thing was to 'actively' internalise something. Then there is the question of how we reconcile feelings with internalised determinants (be it guilt, contentment or otherwise).

In terms of branding I'd probably be a rationalist or stoic with the blood of an existentialist and the heart of an optimist. The presence of free will for me is not a curse of perpetual angst over all that could have been but a celebration of how we all define ourselves as human, warts and all.

Whether things are predetermined or otherwise, the very fact that we perceive choice means we have to deal with what that means for each of us, including recognising and respecting that perception of choice in others.

ptoing said...

These are really great. I just skimmed the other comments.

For me the worst kind of people are those who bitch and moan about stupid stuff all the time when they really have everything. This first occurred to me when I did social service with disabled people and saw how happy many of them are being massively impaired in some way.

Also now having been in the Philippines for over 3 weeks and having seen some real poverty as well as happiness coming from the heart you don't often see in Europe, it made me think about how the more people have the more potential there is for misery generated by wealth. People stop appreciating the little things, as well as little human interactions like these shames.

I dunno how much sense this just made, I am suffering from a severe case of travelbrain. Total input overload.

Keep on doing your stuff Helm,
I really like these and can relate to them a lot. They feel very genuine and coming from the heart.

Nick said...

"However if anything the free will thinker will torment themselves over not having done the right thing in the past much more because there are no extenuating circumstances that can alleviate the guilt. Theoretically for them they should be able to make the right choice at all times if 'they try hard enough'... whatever that would entail."

That's related to how much of a stoic - stoic as in, unruffled - someone is, even if he thinks of not having done the right thing.

Helm said...

I'm really happy to see these create space for comments like yours, thank you again.

I don't actually think, as humans we can aspire to either ideal of pure free thinking or determinism. Our minds simply cannot hold every eventuality before and after an event to even contemplate the determinants or be aware of all the choices.I agree. My interest is that a determinist system of thought is internalized to the point where even when you do not see the determinants the prime impulse is to realize that they exist, and you shouldn't place all blame on your functional choice.

In some way you are choosing to affect a similar situation in the future by a form of passive internalised determinatesExactly. I tend to think of the conscious part of the brain as some sort of debugger. It talks and it makes points about what the subconsciousness does, and those points are internalized and come next situation the subconsciousness (that is pulling the shots almost completely in times of crisis) might act a bit different. As you say of course that is a determinant as well.

Then there is the question of how we reconcile feelings with internalised determinants (be it guilt, contentment or otherwise).Ah... the meta-guilt. I think it's a valuable change to go from feeling guilt over every little thing you thought you could control with your free will, to feeling some sort of condensed guilt once you realize you were never in control. It's managable (it was for me at least) and it gave away to valuable understanding. A system of thought which includes the often times ineffective behaviour of the self as a vital part of its evolution is more forgiving towards it exactly because it's expected. Free will thinkers have a big problem with the idea that they have to make bad choices in order to later make good choices, mainly because from the point of view of a free will thinker (especially a theist on top) there simply is no reason any bad choice was inescapable to begin with.

I am also close to the existentialist modes of thought, only I am the curious sort of existentialist that states that 'he finds himself compelled to be an existentialist by determinist functions', if you follow the metaphore. There is not much functional difference between myself and a free will existentialist, I find. But the way our modes of thought are structured have different depths and widths.

You have a sold grasp of the concepts that I'm trying to articulate through my artwork. I am glad to be able to engage in this sort of dialogue.

Sven, I think it would be best if you didn't even have to find a sort of 'worst kind of people' to criticize, it is most probably a projection of your own person. When you say 'worst kind of people are those that bitch and moan when they have everything' you're talking about yourself to a degree. I don't think this self-loathing is conductive and I can't encourage it, heh :) When you feel bad there are reasons for it that can't be cast irrelevant just because others have it worse, I found. Of course over the top complaining is annoying in itself for other reasons, but I don't think they're good enough to disregard the issues that lead to sadness in any more comfortable individual than the one struggling for basic survival.

Nick: if someone is a free will thinker and they're unruffled over making wrong choices then it might be the case they're morally uncentered. I'm not interested in becoming the rational bastard at all. I don't have it in me. I try to understand these people but surely once you don't care so much if you did good or bad, there are much bigger behavioral issues there than whether or not you believe in free will.

Nick said...

I am not talking about not caring if doing good or bad, more like caring but not feeling guilt about it. I don't know how possible that is, since there are certain psychological mechanisms e.g caring a lot for a situation might bring guilt if you act 'wrong'. Can one separate guilt from caring?I think it's possible, once you think that certain feelings over a certain limit become soul-devestation and counter-productive, so even if you do care about how u treated others, feeling guilt about it isn't going to make any good about it. Desensitize yourself as much as possible from "bad" feelings.
The rational bastards you desribe make this psychological mechanism pathological (in my opinion) as they choose the simplifed and easy way of "I don't fucking care" through basic rationalisation. Unruffled doesn't mean indifferent.

But it is true that determinism does make on more unruffled.

Helm said...

Can one separate guilt from caring?I don't think so. Unless you never do anything bad. As that is impossible I don't think one is able to completely erase their impulse for regret. And regret is guilt.

tsoureki said...

What is the functionality of adopting a fully deterministic point of view as far as free will is concerned? People usually act automatically but you make conscious effort not to act automatically. Of course you believe that this decision of yours is predefined but wouldn't you end up in the same behavior(s) you currently demonstrate in your life if you pretended that you act freely on some level? Also, how do you define chance?