Friday, October 29, 2010

Implied Degrees of (In)humanity in Social Interactions, Or, In Defense of Small Talk


1. Introduction

2. The Implied Inhumanity of the Working World

3. The Implied Humanity of Small Talk

4. Theory- Theory and Implied Inhumanity

5. Simulation Theory and Implied Humanity

6. Zen as an Antidote to Mindless Theoretical Interactions and a Path to Mindful Simulative Interactions

7. Conclusion


So I want to spend a little time essaying on an issue that I have already worked on a little: small talk, chit chat, and politeness. From the start I have been in favor of small talk. I am a huge advocate of politeness. To eschew small talk and politeness because it feels ritualistic or phony is to miss a crucial point, I think. I had a very interesting moment at work today in which I had a very compressed/dense moment of thought in which I thought of some new ways to frame this issue. I engaged in some small talk and found it very satisfying, and then as soon as I walked away my mind swirled with some new ideas. I pulled out my notebook and I wrote down ‘capitalism and vague inhumanity. small talk and vague humanity.’ That was around 4pm. Since then I have decided that instead of talking about vagueness I want to talk about ‘implied degrees of humanity’.

The basic idea is that when we interact with people our behavior implies a certain degree of humanity or inhumanity. When we approach a store clerk, for example, and tell them what we want without looking them in the eye or attempting to make small talk we imply that we regard them with some level of inhumanity. On the other hand, when we approach someone with a smile, we look them in the eyes, and we genuinely engage them despite the inherent superficiality of our interaction, we imply that we regard them with a certain level of humanity. In short, how we treat people implies the level of humanity that we see in that other person. I will just personally say that when people order things from me like I’m a robot and just sloppily throw money at me it makes me feel like my humanity has been ignored or affronted.

This sounds awfully dramatic, I suppose. But at the same time I think it a serious issue. I think that small talk and politeness is an important issue. I think that the stakes are higher than we might realize. But I’m not sure if I can say why at this moment. Perhaps this essaying will clarify.

In any case, I plan on handling this in five sections. In the first two sections I’m going to keep it straightforward and just talk about my experiences and thoughts on the working world and small talk. Then in the second two sections I’m going to connect these ideas to the contemporary debates in theory of mind, in particular the debate between theory-theory and simulation theory. So, first, I’m going to talk about the working world and how ‘business’ like interactions imply a certain level of inhumanity. Second, I’m going to talk about small talk and how it implies a certain level of humanity. Third I’m going to talk about theory-theory and how I think that the implied inhumanity of the working world has to do with the proliferation of theory-theory in people’s minds. To put it differently, I think people’s minds are often overrun with concepts and categories that prevent them from really engaging directly with people, thus leading them to implicitly treat people inhumanely. Fourth, I’m going to talk about simulation theory and how engaging with people with this theory in mind means that out behavior is implicitly humane. And lastly, I’m going to talk about Zen and the importance of being present and mindful during every social interaction. I think that Zen offers a powerful antidote to the inhumanity that is implied in some social interactions. So then, now I can say that with the issue of small talk the stakes are nothing less than subtle humanity. Onward.

Brief disclaimers: First, I’m not completely satisfied with the language of humanity and inhumanity. It doesn’t feel quite adequate. But I’m trying to find ways to talk about how people interact, and what it implies about how people regard one another. But I’m going to let my analysis center around these terms for this essay. Second, forgive me if any of this sound hyperbolic. I am also entertaining the idea of writing an essay called ‘Finding The Moderate Truth Within Hyperbole’. Perhaps sometimes I swing really hard to one view, but that is only because I suspect that things, or my own mind, is stuck on the other side. I swing the pendulum hard to the left because it has been on the right, and I want it in the middle. Hyperbole is not meant to communicate an absolute truth, but is meant to serve as a counterweight to an already distorted view.

The Implied Inhumanity of the Working World

So, the example I gave above is a good starting point. When someone comes up to me and rattles off some ridiculous order and throws a credit card at me I go crazy. But why do I go crazy? Why does it bother me so much? Because I feel like when they look at me they don’t see me as a person. I feel like I exist as some kind of robot in their world who is there simply to get them coffee and pastries. It just makes me think that these people are so wrapped up in their own minds that my presence doesn’t mean anything to them. They don’t realize that I woke up that morning and thought about how I had to go to work and how I find my life confusing. I just feel like my sense of myself is squashed somehow. Since they seem to have no interest in really interacting with me it makes me feel like I don’t matter to them. I then sort of imagine what it would be like for someone to regard me as simply a coffee robot. And that makes me sad. It makes me feel like I am being treated inhumanely, or ahumanely, which isn’t a word. But still. I’m just using that word ahumane to communicate that it isn’t so much an inhumane treatment as a treatment that doesn’t acknowledge humanity. It isn’t the existence of inhumanity but rather a lack of humanity.

In my journal I had written that it had something to do with capitalism and the way that the working world is structured. Perhaps this has something to do with it. Maybe I just exist as a cog in this cafe machine, which is a cog in a larger bookstore machine, which is a cog in a larger economic machine. Perhaps what I am experiencing is the mechanization of social interaction at the hands of the economic system.

I am starting to have more curiosity about Marxism and economic analysis in general. I think this is because I am currently reading David Harvey’s The Condition of Postmodernity: An Enquiry Into Cultural Change. Harvey is a geographer who has written a good bit on economics, cities, and cultural change. He talks about capitalist modernization and how it effects relationships between people. In the part of the book I am currently on he is analyzing Marx’s depiction of capitalist modernization. The thing that stood out most to me is the idea of fetishizing commodities. I really want to read Marx. I haven’t yet. But anyways, the basic idea (as I loosely understand) is that the products that we buy seem to magically appear in front of us, and we thus experience an alienation from how they were created and how they got there. Why this is called fetishization I don’t really know.

But think about it in the context of the present example: people are used to coming into my cafe and there being tons of pastries and coffee drinks and all that and people don’t think about where it comes from and how it got there. So perhaps people can think of me in the same way. They have no idea where I come from or why I am the keeper of their pastries and absurd coffee treats. All they know is that this young man with glasses can get them a treat if they tell him to do so. So my humanity doesn’t have to enter the picture. People are inherently ignorant of and thus alienated from my experience and the process that led me to become the keeper of their treats.

I think that this idea of alienation from the process of production (in which I am a product of sorts that people are disconnected from) is useful in talking about why people sometimes interact with me as if though I were just a robot. People just want the things they can buy, and they don’t see the need to be polite or engaging when just buying these things.

So I guess what I’m saying is that it seems like when people interact with me they are engaging mindlessly. They are just unreflectively going through that moment, desiring their coffee treats, and not stopping to consider the young man that gets them their treats. But this mindlessness is a bit disconcerting to me. I think it is perhaps something to do battle with. But perhaps I’ll get to that later.

I didn’t use the term inhumanity super explicitly in this section. So let me make it explicit: when people mindlessly interact with me in the professional/capitalist world it seems to me that a certain level of inhumanity is implicit in their behavior. By not looking me in the eye and throwing your crumpled money on the counter you are implicitly regarding me as lesser, as inferior, as inhuman. Perhaps they don’t mean this, and would be upset to hear it framed like this. But it seems to me that it might be reasonable to say that their behavior implies this. Perhaps because our political and economic system imply this lack of humanity and they have simply internalized this tendency to ‘fetishize’ someone, or to ignore someone’s humanity. Now let me turn to small talk and how I think that it implies a certain level of humane regard for others.

The Implied Humanity of Small Talk

So when people don’t look me in the eye I feel that my humanity has been implicitly denied. But when someone comes up to me and talks to me about how my day is and how their day is I feel so much better. When I walk past co-workers and we simply take the time to smile at one another or to say hello I feel so much more invigorated by that. At my last job someone said to me ‘Riley, you don’t have to say something every time we walk by’. But honestly I don’t like walking past people I know without somehow acknowledging them. But I find that people do it. And unfortunately I now find myself doing it. I feel shy because the general climate sometimes seems to be one in which people don’t say hello to each other, don’t acknowledge one another. This essay marks the beginning of my polite insurrection: I am now going to be forcibly interactive and friendly with people. Tactfully, of course. But if someone sees me and then avoids eye contact I will say hello to their diverted eyes.

Because today I was in a hallway and me and this guy had a brief interaction that was really nice. We said hello, I asked him how it was going, he said it was good, asked me how I was. I said ‘ah pretty good, the day is winding down’. He said ‘yeah, finally’. I laughed a little and said something positive to affirm the feeling of a long day. And you know what, it made me feel great! It feels fun to identify with people on any level. It feels good to share experience in almost any way at all. It makes me feel like saying ‘Yeah buddy! You and me! We are in this human existence together! Our lives don’t make any sense and we live in some state in some country and that doesn’t make any sense to me! But I like that we can smile and commiserate about how we work and live together’.

Perhaps these people wouldn’t identify with these feelings of confusion and helplessness. This feeling of ‘Why do we live this way? Why do I speak this language and root for these national priorities? Why do I do anything that I do?’ Being the history lover that I am, I always come back to something like historical determinism. I always grapple with the quality of my experience by thinking about how history has structured my life, placed me within a determined political-economic environment. This is what I would like to do as a thinker and an artist. Talk about the quality of contemporary experience and help myself (and maybe others?) grapple with the confusion of this overly-structured life. That is what my new big essay I’m working on is addressing, which I am excited about, and hope to finish by the end of November.

But the point I’m making here is that life is confusing, and that it makes me feel good to know that other people share my experiences. When people come up to me and toss their money at me I feel like they don’t want to share in my experience. They don’t want to share in the commonality of our lives. The commonality of our pain and confusion is lost on them in that moment, it seems.

But small talk is a way to show each and every person that you share their experience in some way. All talk is a way of sharing experience. Experience of thought, experience of emotion, experience of any kind. Language is always about experience. Unfortunately, language also has a darker side. It has the tendency to abstract things, to remove us from the emotional part of our experiences. It can make things cold and automatic.

So I am promoting emotional and engaged small talk. And yeah, it can be hard to talk about the weather or the day of the week and enjoy it. But at the same time it can be so fun. Just to feel lives that are like mine in any way at all. I just love empathy. I talk to someone and I suddenly feel like I exist in their mind and they exist inside mine. Go ahead and look at my profile picture. Minds encase other minds.

I am willing to hold you inside my mind if you are willing to do the same for me.

I think that is why I enjoy small talk. It is mutual regard. Mutual interest in sharing experience. Which alleviates the frustration of my experience. It always feels better to have confidants, to have comrades. With small talk everyone becomes my comrade. The people who throw their money at me don’t seem to want to be my comrades. They seem to want me to be their treat machine.

I’ve known some people who have explicitly declared themselves to be anti-small talk. Poppycock, I say. To be anti-small talk is to be anti-tact, anti-politeness. To be anti-small talk is to deny that we have something in common with everyone. It is to deny that there are people that you simply don’t care to share your mind with. It is to believe that there are certain minds which you just don’t care to know. This is too hyperbolic. But I do think that to be anti-small talk is somehow bad. I am trying to come up with some philosophically defensible view of politeness and small talk.

So now that I have roughly and ramblingly laid out my stance on the different approaches to small talk, and how they implicitly communicate a certain view on the humanity or inhumanity of other people, I want to connect these ideas to the contemporary debates going on in theory of mind. First, theory-theory. Second, simulation theory. Lastly, Zen.

Theory-Theory and Implied Inhumanity

So one of the major contemporary schools of theories of mind is known as theory-theory. I have extensively written about theory-theory, so check out any of my posts between May and August and I will likely talk about it. But to roughly rehash: theory-theorists argue that human’s understand other people’s minds by drawing on tacit or naive psychological theories. They believe that we are equipped with an unconscious psychological theory that allows us to make inferences about the mental states of other people.

I’ll say first and foremost that I think tacit psychological theories do indeed exist. That our minds are equipped with certain understandings about the world and minds that allow us to intuitively think certain things. Tacit theories can in some ways be likened to our assumptions about the world. We assume that gravity will keep us on the ground, that dogs can’t talk, that most people see colors the same as us, so on. Tacit theories can also be compared to mental models that neuroscientists speak of. Our brain models our own bodies and the world around us. We have intuitive models of the rooms we live in, of the size of our bodies, of the way that we move. That is why phantom limb pain is possible, and why we find it startling when someone suddenly moves when we turn our back. Our brain works by modeling the world around us, by creating the tacit theories that theory-theorists speak of.

But to assume that theory-theory can account for all relationships between human minds seems absurd to me. For one thing, many of the things that we assume about other minds come from language and culture. When we see a young person dressed a certain way, for example, we automatically assume that they like certain types of books, music, conversation, or things like that. The tacit theories that we have about people are socially constructed, they are not essential or innate in our minds. Tacit theories likely work with what John Searle calls ‘status functions’: things that work only because a group of people has declared them to work in that way. Obama, for example, is only president because he has been declared president and because our social system makes it so that people agree on this declaration. The conclusion I am leading myself towards is that if tacit theories are based on social facts, then theory-theory mindreading cannot be the most primitive, basic, and essential form of mindreading.

If theory-theory requires status function declarations, and thus language, then how would theory-theory mindreading have functioned in our pre-linguistic ancestors? What kinds of tacit psychological theories do apes possess that would allow them to accomplish the types of mindreading that they need to perform? Similarly, I think there are a lot of things that happen in our lives, like emotions, that don’t revolve primarily around language, and thus couldn’t be handled by something like a tacit theory. I’m preemptively refuting theory-theory so that later on I can talk about how simulation theory (also called empathy theory) is a better way to think about mindreading and small talk. But nonetheless, theory-theory exists. Tacit theories are real, and people unconsciously infer things all the time.

I do need to say, however, that I think theory-theory can be dangerous. That if we are to rely too much on tacit theoretical models of the world and of minds we run some risks. In particular, we run the risk of treating people like automatons, and we run the risk of implicitly denying people their humanity. Earlier I hinted at the darker side of language. I said that it has the tendency to abstract reality, to remove us from it, to make it seem alien. I was alluding to theory-theory and how I see it as dangerous. When we rely on theoretical models of things we run the risk of simplifying them, of alienating ourselves from them. When we use nothing but society’s rigid sets of concepts we pigeonhole other people and ourselves. We get used to things being what we call them. We think, ‘oh this is just a cafe where I can get treats, and this boy is just here to fetch me treats’. We run the risk of identifying people too much with categories of race, gender, class, and sexuality. We think ‘oh that asian person’ or ‘oh that girl is just blah blah blah’. Theory-theory can blind us to the nuance and dynamism of life. Because the truth is that people defy categories all the time, they bend them, they move within them. But when we only identify people with familiar concepts we deny ourselves the chance to experience their nuance. And sometimes our actions implicitly deny them their humanity.

This rhymes with what Slavoj Zizek refers to as the inherent violence of language. He talks about how language disfigures reality, how it takes things from the outside world and perverts them inside our mind. Language changes the way that we perceive reality, and, as Zizek argues, it “simplifies the designated thing, reducing it to a single feature. It dismembers the thing, destroying its organic unity, treating its parts and properties as autonomous. It inserts the thing into a field of meaning which is ultimately external to it” (Violence, 61). Language has the danger of perverting our perception of reality, and of alienating us from the things, and most importantly, from the people around us. So when someone comes up to me and tells me they want this ridiculous coffee drink and throws their money at me their mind is probably saturated with a tacit theory that says ‘oh this is just a barista who will get me my latte because I have this money and I want to buy myself a treat’. I am not a barista. I am not fucking words. Only that is certain. But people have quite a lot of words to identify me with, so it is much easier for them to engage with my in a way that they can bypass any engagement with me as an actual person. By calling me a barista, or thinking of me in that way, people are given the freedom of just approaching me for a product. Then they get it, and they go and interact with other words. I don’t want to interact with words. I want to use words to interact with ineffable minds.

So this is the danger of theory-theory, and I think this goes somewhere in explaining how it is that for some people small talk is a non-reality, something they don’t engage in and don’t want to engage in. Our modern culture is so overrun with words that it can be easy to engage with the world only in terms of words. And I think this is why people can interact in ways that implicitly deny each other their humanity. People interact as ‘customer’ to ‘barista’, ‘boss’ to ‘employee’. All these status function declarations constitute our tacit theories that allow us to engage with others in inhumane ways. Language is dangerous, and we shouldn’t let it govern our perception of other people.

I wonder if this is at all clear to an outside reader. Because to me it makes sense, but I doubt my writing is coherent. But to try and summarize: theory-theory cannot be thought of as the only way that people interact with other minds. Mindreading has to be traceable to a time when individual’s lives were not structured entirely by language. But our society does indeed have an enormous amount of ‘theories’, so much has been said that our minds are flooded with preformed categories. It is the excessive application of these categories, I believe, that allows people to engage in anti-small talk behavior that implicitly denies people their humanity.

Now, let me talk about simulation theory.

Simulation Theory and Implied Humanity

The other major competing theory of mind is known as simulation theory of mind. It has also been called empathy theory. The basic argument of simulation theorists is that human beings understand one another’s mental states by ‘putting ourselves in their shoes’, so to speak. They argue that whenever someone else communicates to us, through language, facial expressions, or otherwise, we use these signs as evidence for their mental state, which we then use to internally simulate their thoughts in our own mind, and then finally project those thoughts and feelings onto that other person. So the process of simulation has three stages that blend in practice and feel intuitive. First we perceive the expression of mental activity in another person, we then internally simulate the state we believe that person is having, and then we attribute that state to that person and project it onto them.

I find simulation theory compelling because it has some pretty convincing neurological evidence that I haven’t seen from theory-theory. One of the most important pieces of evidence is the existence of mirror neurons. Mirror neurons are a class of neurons that are active both when we make and witness an action being performed. So when we perceive someone making an angry face, all of the neurons we would use to make that same face become active. The facial muscles then communicate to the limbic system which makes us feel the appropriate emotion. The existence of mirror neurons means that empathy is a real, direct, and unconscious process in which our brain literally simulates the facial expression and emotion we see in another person. The other convincing piece of evidence is known as the enactment-imagination. This refers to the fact that when we imagine an experience we experience the same neural activity that we would have if we actually underwent that experience. So, if we imagine a spider crawling on our skin, we experience neural activity that corresponds with the actual experience of a spider crawling on us. Our imagination actually enacts the experience in our brain. So, this parallels to mental activity as well. When we imagine how a person is feeling we create that feeling in our own brain.

I’m cutting this short because I’ve written on simulation theory so much. Again, look at anything I wrote between April and September and I likely reference simulation theory. But I find it very compelling. And I think those two brief things, mirror neurons and the enactment-imagination, should make it clear that empathy/simulation is a very real thing in the interaction of minds. Also, because simulation theory doesn’t rely on language I agree with Alvin Goldman that it is probably the most basic and important form of mindreading that humans possess. I, however, think that simulation theory is in danger of being overrun by theory-theory. I think that our society’s plethora of concepts has dulled people’s sense of empathy. I think that when people have too many words they don’t need empathy as much.

This is relevant because I think that by placing more emphasis on empathy we would be more inclined to engage in small talk, and thus more inclined to implicitly recognize people’s humanity. What I described above as an excitement at sharing experience with people, even just through small talk, is an excitement for empathy, an excitement for the simulation of other people’s thoughts. Today when that guy told me that he was glad the day was ‘finally winding down’, I felt more excited because I understood that his day had felt really long and now he was feeling good that it was almost over. I was happy for him because he was happy, and I thus became happy myself. It feels good to engage with other minds, it feels good to simulate other minds.

I think my tendency to empathize/simulate other minds also explains why it hurts me when people throw their money at me. When someone comes up to me and doesn’t look at me and just throws stuff at me it forces me to simulate a mind that regards me as not worthwhile. I find myself imagining a perspective that doesn’t care to say hello to me. And it hurts me to bring that perspective to life within my own mind. But I can’t help doing it. My knowledge of simulation theory, and my analysis of my own mental habits certainly helps me. But it still doesn’t feel good to empathize with someone who doesn’t want to empathize with me. In essence it means that by empathizing with them I am not empathizing with myself.

So I really feel like this section doesn’t have to be as long or elaborate. To explicate simulation theory isn’t as hard as explicating theory-theory because I think it intuitively makes more sense. Doesn’t it seem to make sense that empathy would be our primary way of understanding other people? Wouldn’t we draw on our own experiences to understand other people’s experiences? And doesn’t that thus mean that it is helpful, fun, and supremely human to share experience? I think so. And I think that if we were to regard our minds as functioning primarily in terms of simulation/empathy, we might take a positive approach to small talk, and we could realize that when we engage in small talk what we are doing is implicitly acknowledging that other people’s experiences are worthwhile. I think that by thinking of social interactions in terms of simulation we can see that small talk is a rewarding way to share our experiences, however small, however mundane we believe them to be. The alternative is to regard small talk and superficial interactions as not worthwhile. But when we do that we implicitly deny people the worth of their experience, we implicitly deny people their humanity.

So that is all I want to say about simulation theory I suppose. I think that small talk should be thought of as simulations, as an empathic process of sharing experience. Experience of the working world, of the social world, of the absurd 21st century world. Small talk is worthwhile, and I think that simulation theory helps make this true, and that theory-theory helps me see why it can be dangerous to try and bypass or condemn small talk. All you theory-theorists, look out, because I think what you are saying is dangerous and is expanding the gulf between people. Simulation theorists, look out, you need to get aggressive with your empathizing, you need to get active.

Lastly I just want to talk about Zen.

Zen as an Antidote to Mindless Theoretical Interactions and a Path to Mindful Simulative Interactions

I think that Zen is surprisingly compatible with simulation theory, and also conveniently exposes the dangers of theory-theory. The key thing in Zen is awareness and mindfulness. The goal is to perceive reality accurately by being grounded and aware of every single moment. Interestingly, one thing that Shunryu Suzuki says is that we need to abandon all of our preformed concepts. He says that these concepts get in the way of us perceiving reality accurately. Does this remind you of theory-theory? It should. Because what I was telling you was that theory-theory is about our minds reliance on a series of preformed and unconscious concepts that guide our interactions with others. I told you that theory-theory was dangerous because it alienated us from the world and because it prevents us from perceiving reality accurately. As Zizek claims, language is violence, concepts disfigure reality, it paints them in a new light and changes the way we perceive them. So, both Zen and Zizek believe that we need to give up on theory-theory: we can’t continue to identify everything with words because it causes us to treat people differently, it causes us to implicitly deny people their humanity by giving up on the idea of small talk. Lol, that last sentence was a bit too much, but you get the point. We rely too much on language and it gets in the way of genuine empathy and interaction.

Zen also lines up directly with simulation theory and my defense of small talk in two ways. First, mindfulness, the key thing in Zen, might be possible because humans have brains that are inclined to simulate other people’s perspectives. I just wrote a post called ‘Mindfulness and Simulation Theory’, about Guy Claxton’s argument that mindfulness is possible because humans evolved to have brains that are capable of shifting to and simulating different perspectives. So simulation theory in many ways may end up vindicating the idea of mindfulness.

Second, I think that Zen lines up with simulation theory because of their emphasis on perceiving things and people as they are, without a set of concepts. Simulation theory implies that people can be perceived on a pre-linguistic level, on an emotional level. Both Zen and simulation theory also believe that accurate perception depends no the individual. In Zen we are supposed to work on our own minds, our own perception, only by focusing on ourselves as the perceiver can we hope to come close to an accurate perception of reality. The same goes for simulation. Because we are the ones responsible for simulating and projecting other people’s minds, it is up to us to try and do it accurately, it is up to us to take control of the way that we are simulating other people’s thoughts, and to make sure that we are empathizing with people as much as we possibly can. So both Zen and simulation theory stress that we are the ones responsible for how we perceive reality. And that we have to exert effort to overcome our set of concepts that blind us from accurate perception.

So this section won’t be as long as the others. I frankly have quite a lot of reading and thinking left to do with Zen. I don’t know how to integrate it into all my other lines of thought. But this is a start. Zen corroborates both of my major arguments in this essay: 1. Zen warns against the ways that language and preformed concepts can prevent us from accurately perceiving reality (i.e. Zen warns against the dangers of theory-theory that I described in section three), and 2. Zen tells us that we are responsible for monitoring our own minds, and that it is up to us to understand how our mind constructs reality for us, in essence confirming the claims of simulation theorists who believe that we are responsible for bringing other people’s experiences to life for us.

This means that if we can embrace Zen we can embrace a world in which small talk is important and worthwhile. We can embrace a view where people are not just ‘baristas’ or ‘cashiers’, but are honest to god ineffable minds that deserve to be empathized with. By embracing Zen we can overcome all of the words that tell us that these people are this or that, that they are ‘poor’ or ‘crazy’ or ‘irrational’. By embracing Zen we can realize the project of simulation theorists by taking empathy seriously, by getting creative with empathy, by monitoring our own minds and changing the way that we bring other people’s minds to life. In short, by embracing Zen we can overcome the mindlessness that theory-theory encourages and live the mindful life that simulation theory gives me hope for.


My main task was to vindicate small talk as worthwhile and important. I tried to do this both negatively and positively. I tried to do it negatively by talking about how the working world leads to a certain amount of alienation from other people and fosters a disdain for small talk, and how this is a reflection of our over reliance on theory-theory. I’m calling this a negative defense of small talk because I was trying to discount the views promoted by the economic system and corroborated by theory-theorists. I tried to do it positively by talking about how small talk was an exciting process of sharing experience, how simulation theory confirms that we can engage with people on a direct and emotional level, and how Zen confirms the importance of being mindful and sensitive towards other people.

The major axis for this analysis, which I fear I lost at times, was that our stance towards small talk implicitly communicates a certain regard for other people’s humanity. If we don’t regard someone as worth our small talk, we are implicitly stripping them of their humanity, we are implicitly telling them that their experience isn’t worth our time. I feel this way sometimes, as I said, when people throw their money at me. I feel like people don’t talk me seriously and don’t feel me worth their words or thoughts. But when we think people worthwhile of their small talk we are implicitly acknowledging their humanity and the worthwhileness of their experience.

This was about two hours of non-stop writing. I’m glad I did this. I think that I have managed to present a somewhat convincing, albeit hyperbolic defense of small talk. Furthermore, I think I successfully connected it to the ongoing debate between theory-theory and simulation theory, showing that theory-theory has the danger of further corroborating the alienation between people that our political-economic environment encourages, and demonstrating that simulation theory has the potential to make us more empathic and aware, bringing it in line with the Zen philosophy that I also feel vital to the task of vindicating small talk. From downtown, he’s on fire, boom shakalaka. Over and out.

I wrote this because I love people. I want to say hello to all of you. I wish I loved you all. But sometimes I know I can’t love everyone. But I want people to forget their words and remember to feel their minds. Because the mind can be so loving. I want to find out how the mind becomes loving. Because I don’t want it to be trapped by the violence of theory-theory. I don’t want the beauty and importance of empathy to be drowned by the overwhelming power of generalizing words. Cause I sure as hell am not words. And neither are you. So lets stop thinking of ourselves as words so often.

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