- Daniel Quinn Book Club — My Ishmael, session 2 reading: “Your Culture” through Calliope, Part II
- Brené Brown Book Club — Daring Greatly, finishing session 1 reading: Beginning through Chapter 2: Debunking the Vulnerability Myths
(Commissions earned on Amazon links.)
“Another rule of thumb you can use to identify the people of your culture is this: They perceive themselves to be members of a race that is fundamentally flawed and inherently doomed to suffering and misery. Because they’re fundamentally flawed, they expect wisdom to be a rare commodity, difficult to acquire. Because they’re inherently doomed, they’re not surprised to be living in the midst of poverty, injustice, and crime, not surprised that their rulers are self-serving and corrupt, not surprised to be rendering the world uninhabitable for themselves. They may be indignant about these things, but they’re not surprised by them, because this is how they expect things to be.” Compare Brené talking about the nature of shame, feeling unworthy, leading people to expect bad things of themselves and the world.
“Even at your age, you’ve probably already met a certain kind of person who is convinced that anything bad that happens in his life is someone else’s fault — never his own. If you haven’t met such a person, I can guarantee that you will do so someday. Such a person never learns from this mistakes, because as far as he’s concerned, he makes no mistakes. He never discovers the source of his difficulties, because he believes those sources lie in others who are beyond his control. To put it very simply, everything that goes wrong in his life he blames on others. He never says to himself, ‘The problem is something I’m doing.’ He says, ‘The problem is something other people are doing. Other people are to blame for all my troubles — and I can’t change them, so I’m helpless… Your entire culture has adopted this way of dealing with your difficulties. You don’t say, ‘The problem is something we’re doing.’ You say, ‘The problem is human nature itself. Human nature is to blame for all our troubles — and we can’t change that, so we’re helpless.” Compare what Brené says about people filled with shame, about narcissists, about people with fixed mindset (though she doesn’t often use that term of Carol Dweck’s, she is aware of Dweck’s work and has mentioned her). Note Quinn specifically drawing a connection to show that what is happening on the individual level is defining on the cultural level.
“Humanity wasn’t born deficient. This was something that happened uniquely among the people of your culture.” Compare Brené talking about how we’re all inherently worthy — and that things lead us to incorrectly believe otherwise.
The History of Man in 17 Seconds
Tunes & Dancers
“The leaders saw things very differently, of course. If the dancers went back to living the way they used to, then the leaders would soon have to do the same, and that didn’t appeal to them at all. They considered and tried many different schemes to encourage or cajole or tempt or shame or force the diners into dancing longer hours, but nothing worked until one of them came up with the idea of locking up the food.” Quinn’s work gets at the very roots of hierarchy, domination, power over. At the very roots of why shaming is inherent to our culture — and therefore why the culture needs a genuine paradigm shift if we’re ever going to get away from the widespread shame Brené recognizes as needing to give way to Wholeheartedness.
“One of these holdout peoples were the Singe, who were used to dancing a couple of hours a day to produce the foods they favored. At first they lived as before. But then their children began to be jealous of the things Taker children had, and they started offering to dance a few hours a day just for the Takers… Another holdout people were the Kemke, who were used to dancing just a few hours a week and who loved the leisure this lifestyle gave them. They were resolved not to let happen to them what happened to the Singe, and they stuck to their resolve… Gradually, the Kemke forgot how to do their own hunting and gathering, and of course the more they forgot, the more dependent they became on the Takers. They began to feel like worthless beggars, lost all sense of self-respect, and fell into alcoholism and suicidal depression… Another holdout people were the Waddi, who spent only a few hours a month dancing and were perfectly happy with that lifestyle… The Waddi replied that they would meet force with force and warned the Takers that they were prepared to fight to the death to preserve their way of life. They said, ‘Look, you have all the land in this part of the world. You don’t need this little part that we’re living in… ‘To us, you don’t look successful at all,’ the Waddi replied. ‘You force people to dance ten and twelve hours a day just to stay alive, and that’s a terrible way to live. We dance just a few hours a month and never go hungry, because all the food in the world is right out there free for the taking. We have an easy, carefree life, and that’s what success is all about.’ The Takers said, ‘That’s not what success is about at all. You’ll see what success is about when we send in our troops to force you onto the land we’ve set aside for you.” Compare the Guidepost about rest and letting go of productivity and exhaustion — and more broadly the notion of power over, and the challenge of Wholeheartedness in a world designed to squash it.
The Parable Examined
“I mean that people seldom look very hard for things they don’t want to find. They avert their eyes from such things. I should add that this is not an observation of any great originality on my part.” Compare Brené talking about how it’s a superpower to face discomfort.
A Visit to Calliope
Calliope, Part II
“Now we’re going to have a look at what works when it comes to conflict among conspecifics — members of the same species. Because conspecifics are constantly competing for the same resources, opportunities for conflict among them arise daily, even hourly. Obviously, therefore, evolution must have brought forth means of resolving these conflicts that are less than deadly. It wouldn’t work to have every conflict over resources settled by mortal combat.” Quinn pointing to the value of solutions that aren’t win-lose for those who have to continue to engage with each other.
“It doesn’t pay to get into a serious battle over every acorn, but it also doesn’t pay to back down over every acorn. It’s important to be predictable to a certain extent, but it’s also important not to be too predictable.” Compare Brené advising a strong back while also advising against keeping on armor.
“These strategies enable troops of Bawks to live side by side without either overrunning each other or being overrun. At the same time they can compete for the resources they need without having to fight to the death for every little thing.” Quinn is talking on the cultural level about the importance of healthy boundaries, which Brené talks about on the individual level.
“In practice, give as good as you get means that if the Emms aren’t bothering you, don’t bother them, but if the Emms do bother you, then be sure to return the favor. Don’t be too predictable means that even if the Emms aren’t bothering you, it will be no bad thing if you make a hostile move against them from time to time. They will of course retaliate, giving as good as they get, but this is just a price to be paid for letting them know that you’re there and haven’t gotten soft. Then, once the score is even between you, you can get together for a big reconciliation party to celebrate your undying friendship and do some matchmaking (because, of course, it doesn’t do to breed endlessly within a single tribe).
“Although the strategy of the ‘Erratic Retaliator’ may sound rather combative, it’s actually a peacekeeping strategy. Think of two people who are quarreling over whether to go to a movie or to a play. Instead of settling the argument with blows, they flip a coin, agreeing beforehand that they’ll go to a movie if it’s heads and to a play if it’s tails. The same purpose is served by agreeing to attack if you’re the resident and to flee if you’re the intruder. Combat is avoided if both parties follow the same strategy. Even so, if you spend a year observing the Jays, the Kays, the Ells, the Emms, the Enns, the Ohhs, and so on, what you see is that they seem to be in a state of more or less constant but very low-level warfare with each other. I don’t mean daily or even monthly warfare, though there will be border skirmishes as frequently as that. I mean that every tribe exists in a state of perpetual readiness. And once or twice a year every tribe will initiate a raid against one or more of its neighbors. To a person of your culture, this will seem puzzling. A person of your culture will want to know when the Cawks are at last going to settle their differences and learn to live in peace. And the answer is that the Cakws will settle their differences and learn to live in peace as soon as mountain sheep settle their differences and learn to live in peace and as soon as sticklebacks settle their differences and learn to live in peace and as soon as elephant seals settle their differences and learn to live in peace. In other words, the competitive strategies practiced among the Cawks mustn’t be viewed as disorders, as character defects, as ‘problems’ to be solved, any more than the competitive strategies of white-footed mice, wolves, or elk are these things. Far from being defects to be eliminated, they are what is left over when all other strategies are eliminated. In short, they’re evolutionarily stable. They work for the Cawks. They’ve been tested for millions of years, and every other strategy tested against them has been eliminated as a failure.” More on healthy boundaries, so healthy that they withstand occasional hostility between parties while keeping things friendly enough for not just civility but matchmaking and intermarrying. This is the kind of healthy group boundary that our shame-based culture seems clueless about, always turning us-vs.-them into a win-lose proposition.
“Let’s suppose the Jays have annihilated the Emms. What are the Kays, the Ells, the Enns, and the Ohhs going to think about this?”
“The light dawned at last. “I see where you’re going now,” I told him. “They’re going to say, ‘If the Jays are going to start annihilating opponents, then we’ve got to adopt a new strategy toward them. We can’t afford to treat them as though they’re still playing Erratic Retaliator, because they’re not. We have to treat them as though they’re playing Annihilator, otherwise they may just annihilate us.'”
“And how do they have to treat them if they’re playing Annihilator?”
“I’d say it would depend. If the Jays go back to playing Erratic Retaliator, then they could probably just let it be. But if the Jays continue to play Annihilator, then the survivors are going to have to join forces against the Jays and annihilate them.” In Braving the Wilderness, Brené quotes Elie Wiesel: “We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.” Also compare Brené’s interviews with various people on her podcast discussing the important of active anti-racism and the non-existence of “not being racist.”
Chapter 2: Debunking the Vulnerability Myths
“And the answer that appeared over and over in all of our efforts to better understand vulnerability? Naked.” Compare Ishmael: “A man is scrabbling along a ridge at twilight. The man is short, thin, dark, and naked. He’s running in a half crouch, looking for tracks. He’s hunting, and he’s desperate. Night is falling and he’s got nothing to eat.” Those last two sentences begin a quote found at Getting Somewhere. The emotional and the physical get conflated as subjects of Taker/shame culture’s projections.
“And what makes this really interesting is that the critical issue is not about our actual level of vulnerability, but the level at which we acknowledge our vulnerabilities around a certain illness or threat… ‘Far from being an effective shield, the illusion of invulnerability undermines the very response that would have supplied genuine protection.'” Compare Quinn on Taker culture needing to conquer ever more perfectly, delusionally believing it isn’t subject to certain natural laws.
“It’s courage beyond measure. It’s daring greatly. And often the result of daring greatly isn’t a victory march as much as it is a quiet sense of freedom mixed with a little battle fatigue.” Compare Quinn on Leaver cultures’ modest but meaningful lives in what Taker culture considers “the wild.”
“When we pretend that we can avoid vulnerability we engage in behaviors that are often inconsistent with who we want to be. Experiencing vulnerability isn’t a choice — the only choice we have is how we’re going to respond when we are confronted with uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure.” Compare Taker culture, pretending to avoid vulnerability while insisting on utopian, inauthentic behaviors for people — behaviors inconsistent with what people really are and want to be beneath Taker culture’s surfaces.
“In reality, walking alone can feel miserable and depressing, but we admire the strength it conveys, and going it alone is revered in our culture.
“Well, as much as I love the idea of walking alone down a lonely street of dreams, the vulnerability journey is not the kind of journey we can make alone. We need support.” Compare Taker culture seeing itself as alone and exceptional in the entire community of life — and Quinn’s description of Leaver culture being based on give-support-get-support.
“After running from vulnerability, I found that learning how to lean into the discomfort of uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure was a painful process.” See above connection between Quinn and Brené’s valuing the facing of discomfort.
“… I controlled things. I managed situations and micromanaged the people around me. I performed until there was no energy left to feel. I made what was uncertain certain, no matter what the cost. I stayed so busy that the truth of my hurting and my fear could never catch up. I looked brave on the outside and felt scared on the inside.” Compare Quinn on Taker culture seeking ever more control, ever more certainty, and being full of anguished people.