Friday, November 22, 2019


In all the onslaught of life today, there are two points of relationship.  One is attachment, whom or what do you care about.  The other is presentation, who you say you are, your "role".  This bit of thought is about how a change in "religion" from "Christian" to whatever it is we can believe in, now that science challenges the old three-level world with new technology perceiving a nearly unbelievable world.  The shift is so deep that it's hard to think about, much less believe.  Who are we now?  It's about preservation.

"Self-presentation is behavior that attempts to convey some information about oneself or some image of oneself to other people. It denotes a class of motivations in human behavior. These motivations are in part stable dispositions of individuals but they depend on situational factors to elicit them."  (Baumeister, Springer)

"Goffman puts forth a theory of social interaction that he refers to as the dramaturgical model of social life. According to Goffman, social interaction may be likened to a theater, and people in everyday life to actors on a stage, each playing a variety of roles."  (

Prosperity-based morality, which took strong hold among Americans after WWII because of the belief that we had won and therefore were best/strongest/deserving, has split presentation into two streams.  One is concern to present oneself in a way that would please people with power, so a person can get ahead.  But the other is "authenticity" and opposition to any pretence, meant to build trust for people whose achievement depends on being believed and respected, regardless of income.  

The split between how one presents and the motives for doing it introduces separation between motives and appearance.  People may at heart be quite different than the way they appear.  People are capable of creating "containers" in their identities that limit and defend what they share with certain others.  This is similar to the idea of "dissociation" into several identities.  We always do this somewhat, presenting different aspects of ourselves.  One of the early splits is between the way a child is at home and the way the child behaves at school.

But also, particularly in this time period, teachers and parents want their children to be "great," achievers, money-makers, who can pull the whole family into higher status and more money.  The adult urge children on, sometimes pressuring them so much as to break and deform them. Non-conforming or defiant children might be ejected.  Families can fall apart.

Christian religious institutions of the time supported several national cultural ideas that were relevant to war and are still alive fifty years later, esp among old white men, conservatives.  One is the idea of the Great Man, someone of such superior and prevailing intelligence and strength that women esp. love and support him, while men try to be like him, a military general or his underground version, the Godfather.  The other is the "cult" identified by Philip Wylie as that of the adored and adoring mother, who becomes the faithful and healing wife .  These were constructs, interlocking.  For many decades I believed them absolutely  and in this small town, they still pattern life.  If the patterns work, they are believed to create prosperity as described in many obituaries of long-time survivors.

In a new vision of the structure of the world, scientifically based on the complex interactions of infinitesimal bits of energy and molecules, we fear that the old intensity of families created by passion and dedication, idealism and sacrifice as modeled in the Bible, will fall away and leave us in social quicksand.  it's the same fear that predicted if God were not real and able to tell us what is right or wrong, then the evil of the world will have no restraints and people will do anything they please, no matter how evil.  

But God has been "dead" for quite a while and most people still fail to steal, use violence, cheat each other.  Because the needed order of society demands that.  Ironically, it is the people who claim their virtue lies in their bankbook, who also claim to love their Mommies and that their Fathers are Great Men, who disregard the rules of order, replacing them with sentiment.

Coming to Browning as a teacher, I attached to a Great Man instead of becoming a Magic Mother to students.  I left the mother trope, I thought, only to be challenged by a motherless family who badly needed skills I didn't have, and rivalry with a Great Man's cherishing mother.  I thought I was riding shotgun on a stagecoach to success.  Not.

So then I was an animal control officer, a lone peace maker, who became attached to a new trail boss.  Jumping out of that, I went for holding the reins of a religious community and found I didn't like it.  Now I just want to find a new religious trope to understand.  I'm doing that now.

The Sixties for almost everyone was a presentation, a performance, a melodrama.  We were dancing on the edge of the precipice but that's the way the reservation was -- still is.  "Indians" have always been understood as presentations with little concern from outsiders for their interior life.  The theatre department students were dramatic, risking, watching themselves live, but because they were mostly white university students, their interior lives were a preoccupying engine of control and creation.  When I was out in a uniform, that was the only aspect seen when I showed up in a yard.  

The UU congregations called for performance at the highest level of all, both for oneself and others, but seminary education gave me new powerful tools. Others are also struggling with these issues.  For instance, the anthropologists:
"This is a conference wrestling with how to do what is best for everyone everywhere."  Climate is and has always been one of the keys to survival.

Chris Barker and Sarah Kendsior have been sharp commentators on the disintegrating political world under these pressures.   Kendzior remarks: 
"The worst thing about the Dark Ages was that people insisted they were actually in an Age of Light."

Barker replies:  "It's like we've found ourselves in a modern Dark Age, ironically ushered in by blinding, infinite information at our fingertips."  It feels highly personal, this matter of survival.

A song, "Quantum Tangle" pulls in love, a form of attachment even in the dark when presentation might fail.

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