Something that came up….

In the course of a lengthy and wide-ranging discussion with an old friend, we wound up talking about a particular form of anxiety.

Actually, it was a part of that game whereby old friends use some shared experience to chide each other about “aging.” If you don’t do this already, you will. Trust me.The attractor for this particular bit of chiding was my admission that there are parts of some software that I’ve used for years and know reasonably well that have grown and improved in such a way that I no longer am immediately comfortable with them, and–in some cases–that I find my once-familiar tool daunting.

Part of it that uneasiness is, no doubt, simple pride. Part of it is easily curable, if my own internal fictions about myself continue to have some basis in actual fact: I’ll simply make sense of them when I have a good reason to, as I have always done in the past. I think that it was Marvin Minsky who observed that we miss an interesting part of any discussion about whether or not machines can “think” when we don’t ask ourselves how often we think ourselves (the implication being that we only “think” when we must–when our habits fail us, when we are in completely unfamiliar territory, and so on).

But we wound up talking about our own unease instead of those particular fictions, wondering why it was that such a simple moment of anxiety would be so difficult to share with others–especially since talking about the whole business did make us feel a lot better, we agreed.

But here’s where things suddenly took a conversational turn into territory that I am still sitting at my desk ruminating about hours later: The observation that there are specific circumstances where we are provided with another way to deal with this particular form of anxiety–the specific rhetoric of change that some forms of conservatism and the world’s fundamentalisms in general use to create the notion that our unease about the world derives not from our own pride or a moment of hesitation about our own abilities, but in some greater wrong or unease we can correct by returning to an idealized past.

A corollary: If our anxieties about seeing the things we know grow and potentially become unfamilair can be conflated with the larger web of worry about How Things Are Now that drives various fundamentalisms as flights from an uneasy present, is it possible that one could argue against those fundamentalisms by being a little more upfront about our everyday anxieties in conversation with others and, thereby, reclaim just a portion of the emotional territory? I know that it’s probably more efficient to attempt to argue rationally about the non-existence of the idealized past to which fundamentalisms tempt us to return, but that more quotidian worry about how the basic furniture of my world alters a little everday is a far more common part of my life.

Something that came up….

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