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Talking with Zombies

Articles Mar 27, 2023

I have been thinking a great deal lately about how I should spend my time on Earth. In fact, time has been the subject of my earliest preoccupation; as one of the first memories I can recall is begging my mother not to die at age three in the stairwell of my childhood home. I can still remember the gray paint on the stairway that had been applied a few weeks earlier and the perplexed and reassuring statements from my mother as I pleaded my case that she should live rather than die.

Now in my 40s with a fair bit of asphalt under the tires of life so far, I wonder, and yes still worry to some extent about how I should be spending my time on the planet. As I crest into those formidable 40s and my bones and muscles bare the markings of tools whose use has been plenty and my mind reduces in its sharpness to some extent my focus has been on the economy of experience: how to maximize meaning and minimize wasted time.

Maximal meaning to me represents living life pursuing knowledge of topics that enhance my understanding of the world, others, and myself. This is why as an undergraduate I studied psychology as my major and took an interest in philosophy courses. In fact, as I proceeded I realized that the majority of undergraduate psychology courses offered very little to me in the way of deeper knowledge, and so I somewhat casually completed them and instead studied for my elective courses like metaphysics more thoroughly than for my major.

A time may have come when our collective focus needs to be shifted so that we do not waste our neuronal power and so that we can maximize our focus in a finite existence. I don’t know about you, but I have become perplexed and rather irritated that the greatest technological civilization the planet has ever known now essentially holds public discourse on two main topics: race and gender. Put another way, we are spending our time naval gazing at the morality of our positions regarding 1). A topic that has already been settled in a moral sense quite a while ago, and 2). An academic concept (not a true reality) that feminist professor Judith Butler invented in the 1980s.

Even this essay is ironically focused on emancipation from these topics. So can we really cut ties with these issues and move on in life in a less aggravated way toward better headlines? There are people who will not let you free yourself of these mundane issues and who essentially demand that you tangle with them in conversation. They do this by proclaiming a position on one of the matters and forcing you to assent by silence or to argue by engagement. Civility and etiquette no longer hold sway at coffee shops where Chez shirts and beanie hats adorn the smug faces of the “knowers.”

Now, I truly do not have a wise answer here for you on best conduct in these encounters. I can say almost assuredly that social media engagement is plain and simple…just say something matter-of-fact and move on. My previous essays have encouraged you to speak plainly with factual evidence, and with tact. This essay is meant to prompt you (and me) to wonder whether we have become conspicuous participants of a mass psychological regression. Moreover, I urge you to consider that certainly if you become entangled in these basic topics, you may unwittingly become an anecdotal piece of evidence for the Robin DiAngelo religious movement or for the radicals in the gender religious movement.

At this point, I believe that you can only hold reasonable conversations with reasonable people. This is a problem because the United States has balkanized and the vast majority of folks are under the spell of various war-lording religious factions, and as such their beliefs cannot be questioned. I am not being metaphorical here. The more I interact with friends and people in general, I am finding that “normal” and average citizens make statements that are either 1). Fear-based as if they are in some sort of communist regime being watched, or 2). For a moment under a sort of micro-delusion (I just coined that term) while they are regurgitating a position statement. I’m not sure this differs frankly across far-left or far-right bases. Those camps have different position statements they use, but they are generally auto-generated and immune from questioning. A point of difference, however, is that I find that the leftist positions on race and gender have percolated far wider and much more insidiously into the average citizen than the right-wing positions.

Well, here is my conclusion in all of its sadness and yet emancipation for my own conduct. I find myself observing somewhat calmly these days. I observe a person in conversation, much like I do in my role as a clinical psychologist and psychoanalyst. I monitor my own reactions, and I pick up on moments where someone has drifted into a delusional spell; where a seemingly normal person has made contact with a topic that has momentarily overtaken his or her sense-making capacity. It’s like watching a zombie movie. They become anxious, their vocalizations change and become strained, and they waffle between aggression toward an imagined oppressor class on one hand and obsequiousness often toward an “expert” or research finding that they want you to believe is a gospel of sanity (iconic term intended) on the other hand.

What I do is wait. My silence makes them more anxious and that is somewhat my intent because they are behaving like an immature child. I patiently wait for a question that they may eventually ask me. If one does not come, I make a calm and pointed statement of my own position but I keep it robust and concise. Or I drop a grenade of a question that I know they cannot answer and lies at the heart of their position. They can either ask me for more details, or the conversation will then generally simply end or change course.

I do not get pulled into the imaginary world where I need to change their minds or wage a war of ideas. These people appear to me to literally have gone through a petite seizure during conversation. I become an untrusted person: an unknown quantity. I observed but did not regress with them and they now resent me for the shame they feel for their own conduct. None of this is as colorful as I am making it sound. Nobody is generally yelling unless they are drunk. If you are paying attention, these processes unfold somewhat subtly, and yet enough of these moments make it clear to both of us that we are running operating systems that cause malfunctions in one person's computer.

The emancipation from this pattern is that I do not allow myself to waste another moment in emotionally entangled neuronal activity trying to reach a religious zealot who believes that someone can identify as a “helicopter” gender. I read Aristotle, and they focus on his “privilege” in 384 BC.

And so I spend my time thinking about how to engage with you, dear reader. It means the world that we are here together. I hope you agree.

The Real Clear Podcast with Dr Lucas Klein is the in-depth analysis and commentary on current political events through a psychological lens. The Real Clear podcast covers a wide range of topics, from the latest election results to policy debates, to exploring the impact of current events on the political landscape.