Monday, October 5, 2015

Mind-killing 3: marginalization and framing

Mind-killing refers to a set of techniques by which an entity or a system manipulates people to act in its own interests. It does this by killing their ability to act in their own interests. The entity may be a pattern that operates in you, or it could be a family member or your family system. It could be an institution (educational, medical, professional or religious). It could be a corporation, or the advertisers and marketers and public relations people that serve its interests. Or it could be a politician, a government agency, society or the culture at large. 

In two previous newsletters, I discussed alignment and seduction, both of which subvert your own desires, and polarization and reduction, both of which incite your anger or aversion to serve the system’s interests.

Marginalization and framing are methods that play on the reactive pattern of ignoring.

In framing, topics and issues are presented in such a way that key questions cannot be asked, or cannot even be raised. George Lakoff, in Don’t Think of An Elephant, analyzes the different frames used in the politics of this country. Framing induces ignorance in you, that is, you are led to ignore aspects of the issue that may be vitally important to your own interests but are contrary to the interests of the person or entity that is seeking to make you act in their interests. For instance, as soon as Corbyn was elected to the leadership of the Labour party in England, the Tories released an ad that presented Corbyn as a threat to national security — an attempt to reframe the popular interest in him by converting concern over wages and inequality into fear of being unsafe. On the other hand, financial and economic issues are typically framed as being too difficult or too complex for most people to understand, even though large numbers of sports fans in this country have proven very capable of analyzing and understanding the complexities of whole sports, from play on the field to the intricacies of coaching, managing and the draft process, etc.

Marginalization goes further. In marginalization, you are made to feel that your own interests (or interests that run counter to the interests of the other) are inconsequential, are not worth thinking about, are not worth any consideration. Black Lives Matter is a movement that is attempting to counteract the legacy of the marginalization of the value of black lives in America society. Environmental concerns are consistently marginalized in favor of profit, and this is typically done by arousing fear about losing your job or your livelihood. 

In order to recognize the operation of mind-killing, you have to have to be able to actively question what is being presented to you. From this perspective, the auto-anesthesia induced by almost any media technology (books, newspapers, magazines, television, computers, video-games, etc.) makes us susceptible to manipulation by those who know how to use those media. All these technologies bring extraordinary benefits in terms of access to information and richness of life, but they also make us vulnerable to manipulation and control precisely because they induce a kind of sleep.

It is small wonder that mindfulness has attracted so much attention, but the mindfulness movement itself has been criticized for marginalizing the inequities and cruelties of the modern work environment and framing problems in the workplace as a problem with the individual, not with the system.

Two methods that are often effective countermeasures to marginalization and framing are: 
  • knowing what is vitally important to you and 
  • exploring connections.

When it comes to what is important, many people have already been conditioned to think primarily in terms of their own individual welfare and supposed indicators of well-being that are easily measured, i.e., income. Actual quality of life, particularly the quality of relationships and the time to pursue personal interests outside of work, etc., have been effectively marginalized. Thus, from time to time, ask yourself, what is vitally important to me? When you do, you may notice a tide of uncertainty or fear. That fear, that tide, is the inertia of conditioning that is resident in you. To question what is vitally important in the face of that conditioning is no trivial matter, but, at least in my own experience, it is the only way to step into our own lives.

When you explore connections, you break down the artificial restrictions that marginalization and framing have imposed on your thinking. You see for yourself, for instance, how you contribute to and influence the world in which you live. You step out of the world projected by your reactive emotions, fear, anger, need or instinct, and come to appreciate the complexity of interactions that make up every aspect of our lives. You may find the plethora of interconnections overwhelming at first, and not know where to start. Those feelings are, I think, residues of the conditioning that all of us have been exposed to. If we keep exploring and questioning, however, we find more and more freedom and possibilities, internally and externally.


Matthew Joseph O'Connell said...

I've been getting your Musings updates for quite some time and have to say that the latest offering on Mind-Killing is really excellent. I like the direction you've taken with this thinking; it's insightful, sobering and opens up the world of practice to the wider world, which is much needed in the highly individualistic world of western Buddhism. Thank you for sharing it.
I run a podcast with a buddy and it could be nice to have you on at some point if you're interested to discuss the uncomfortable edges of Buddhism. Take a look and see what you think.
Matthew O'Connell

Paul Baranowski said...

Hi Ken- Thanks for this post. The question "what is vitally important to me?" really resonates with me. I recently I wrote up something along similar lines and I thought I would share it. Most of my students have trouble putting into practice such a question as "what is vitally important to me?" so I tried to break it down into smaller steps:
Peace and joy,