Little boxes on the hillside, Little boxes made of tickytacky
Little boxes on the hillside, little boxes all the same
There’s a green one and a pink one and a blue one and a yellow one
And they’re all made out of ticky tacky and they all look just the same.
-“Little Boxes” by Melvina Reynolds
With our concept making apparatus called “mind” we look at reality through the ideas-about-reality which our cultures give us. The ideas-about- reality are mistakenly labeled “reality” and unenlightened people are forever perplexed by the fact that other people, especially other cultures, see “reality” differently. It is only the ideas-about-reality which differ. Real (capital-T True) reality is a level deeper that is the level of concept.
We look at the world through windows on which have been drawn grids (concepts). Different philosophies use different grids.
The song quoted above was written as a kind of protest against suburban conformity, using the artifact of the pre-fabricated tract home as a concrete metaphor. I think it expresses something a bit deeper, about how we tend to think.
We live in the most data rich environment in history. Some call it the “information” age, but the if we take the word in its technical sense, in terms of organization of data into something *new* we will see that there is very little actual information out there. Lots of bits floating around, little actual novelty.
This is because, in another sense, we have in-formed a great deal of data beforehand into discrete packages that to a large degree limit our capacity to incorporate novelty. Things which are alien to the boxes we’ve made in our brains tend to either *not* register, or register in some sub-optimal way. To make matters worse, we tend to put alien data into *other* boxes, with labels that mostly boil down to “threat to mental territory.” Since the human brain works partly by association, data bearing even a passing resemblance to anything in the “threat” boxes automatically get put there. All based not on the validity or lack thereof of an idea, but because it “sounds like” it originated in “Box X.”
We inherit nearly all of our boxes. Most of them quite early in life. They’re built up first of associations with a feeling of security, then a desire to dominate or submit. Random events cause us to associate certain perspectives with certain kinds of people. Those linked pre-consciously to those people we have good experiences with tend to be the ones we build our boxes with. By the time we hit maturity, the world rushes in with several different sorts of “package deals” to put in our ready made containers.
Politics, which is really just a form of stylized territorial conflict with the State as the mediator of some kind of violence, consists mostly of one group of people triggering in another the associations laid down in their “target audience.” No matter how much politicians make noises about their campaigns being “about ideas” or “about policy,” they’re really about making people feel threatened enough in their mental space to run to a protector. Naturally, the associations triggered don’t just deactivate after election season. They accumulate more data, more crumbs on the sticky slush of the mind. Entire chunks of language acquire special meanings, and even ones directly opposite to their obvious meaning. (For instance “neoconservative” refers, in fact, to radical right wing ideologies, not anything remotely “conservative” in the literal sense.)
Religion, of course, is the ultimate “package deal.” The Western approach tends to be “read the book, follow the instructions, don’t ask too many questions.” It’s “tradition,” inviolable even when the “tradition” has been exposed as pure invention. There is no absurdity, impossibility, atrocity, or torture that has not been defended in terms of “tradition.”
We also have, related to this, the division of the world into “sacred” things and “profane” things. How this division makes sense outside the set of boxes in someone’s head I simply don’t know. These are not categories such as “hot” and “cold” which can be measured with instruments, but a priori value judgments. (Unless someone has a “sacredometer” to measure the relative “sacredness” of every idea or phenomena.) Too many things are held sacred in one place and not in another for the distinction to be anything but prejudice.
In the occult, we see this pattern as well. The “traditional wisdom” is often considered valid even when it conflicts with known history and advances in philosophy. What’s important is to “follow the tradition” because it can teach you something about how to do it yourself. Which is all well and good, but one would think that it would do a better job if irrelevancies and nonsense were gotten rid of, rather than sanctified. Or, if it is noted that some other system fills an obvious gap or solves a problem, it makes more sense to incorporate it rather than shun it as “not part of the tradition.”
One often hears people using phrases like “think outside the box,” and some will even agree that the “map is not the territory.” Unfortunately, this rarely means anything, other than that this person has built another box which includes platitudes of this nature. It’s still identity, not relationship with the world.
To honestly “think outside the box” means breaking it. Taking out the contents and periodically reorganizing. This is very difficult, and can lead one to some very odd places. Conversations with others become steadily more surreal unless some common ground is discovered.
Still, the effort is worth it, if one can even once look at the world totally fresh, without previous filtering. That is, before the new filters get installed, and one starts again.