Despite the promise of the Internet (and for that matter, the train, the telephone, and television) we are not yet one big happy family. We are, in fact, more socially isolated, alone and lonely than ever before. Despite a plethora of diversions and entertainment we are restless and dissatisfied. Not always and not all of us. But most of us, most of the time. In the East there has been a different perception of the self than what has been our birthright since Aristotle via Freud. Our insistence that we feel solid and real even as we ground ourselves less and less in community has induced an explosion of mental illness in modern times. In this series of guided conversations we will consider what the individualistic, pugnacious, bellicose world-view brought to us by the Enlightenment is doing to us as human beings and how we can rethink it to help ourselves and each other.
1. Introduction to modern loneliness and boredom - Conversation about how modern lifestyles and digital technology exacerbate the situation. Readings will include Selections from the English philosopher John Grey on the problems of progressivism, Iain McGilchrist on Boredom and Sheri Turkle on conversation.
2. Being alone vs being lonely - We will explore an alternate model that places human social needs as the cause of addiction rather than a reductionist model of chemical dependency and protestant inadequacy. We will look at Bruce K. Alexander’s Rat Park experiments during the Seventies when he effectively showed that addiction was a product of social isolation not chemical dependency. Even though his work has been successfully reproduced in many forms, his ideas have basically been ignored ever since. We will look at why. Homework: We will all try this week to cut our online time in half. [Pay attention to how you feel when you post/text/etc. What do you expect? How do you feel waiting for a response? How would you have felt if you hadn’t done it at all? Why did you do it?
3. Psychedelics and The Restless Self - The recent explosion of research into the use of previously banned substances raises a number of interesting questions. First and foremost, why now? Rising incidence of Mental Illness in the West suggest that an increasingly individualistic and fragmented society may be driving us mad. It is telling that much of the research is focused, not on treating mental illness, but on enhancing individuals, particularly their productivity and ability to “innovate.” In this session we will explore the how these plants which were once used to remind us of our connections are increasingly being used to enhance the power of the individual. Homework: At least one day without any screens. Replace with something in the real world.
4. We will walk in a park and discuss our experience and what we can do to change things. Selections from The Hidden Life of Trees.
*This is a 4-part seminar, limited to 25 attendees, taking place over four consecutive Sunday afternoons. The dates we will meet are: September 24th, October 1st, 15th, & 22nd.