Taoist mythology, Lanna history, mythology, the nature of time and other considered ramblings

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Location: Chiangrai, Chiangrai, Thailand

Author of many self-published books, including several about Thailand and Chiang Rai, Joel Barlow lived in Bangkok 1964-65, attending 6th grade with the International School of Bangkok's only Thai teacher. He first visited ChiangRai in 1988, and moved there in 1998.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Personality Differentiation and Emotional Weather

Alvar Nuñez Cabeza de Vaca (~1490–~1557), author of La Relación (1542; translated variously as "The Relation", “The Narration”, ”The Account" or “Shipwrecks” - from later editions re-titled as Naufragios), was a proto-anthropologist who recorded details of many North American indigenous tribes. A chief officer and treasurer to the 1527 Pánfilo de Narváez expedition of 600 men to Florida, which arrived in April, 1528, he was one of only 242 who escaped Florida in boats made from their horses, and of only four who remained alive to reach Mexico, in 1532. Another was rescued about a decade later, but less than 20 survived the first winter, and it was nothing short of miraculous that any survived at all. No more than a handful disappeared to go native until death; Cabeza de Vaca reported one or two doing so.
Most famous for his report for King Charles V of Spain (La Relación), a classic of colonial literature, Cabeza de Vaca was later posted to South America, but his work there isn’t much remembered, except maybe for the tragedy involved. After living among nomadic (sometimes moving camp every few days) foragers with incomparable understanding of their environment and consummate knowledge of seasonal patterns (but also susceptibility to illnesses introduced through Europeans), for a couple of years, he worked alone for over three, as a trader between mutually hostile tribes. Having thus gained some limited freedom, with his last three expedition companions he gained notoriety among indigenees as a healer – and eventually gathered a large following of natives who regarded them as “children of the sun”, endowed with the power to both heal and destroy. Able then to travel on unthreatened, the group walked away from their goal on the eastern coast of Mexico, when less than 100 miles north of it, to travel far west as explorers. Soon they were fed and protected by a large following, often of thousands. Having met coastal peoples and Mississippian tribes, he now saw nomads of the Plains, then Pueblo farmers and merchants and what they called “people of the cows”. After 8 years and “going native,” his group reached Mexico City, having explored much of Texas and the five northernmost mainland Mexican states (Tamaulipas, Nuevo Leon, Coahuila, Chihuahua and Sonora - largely along the Rio Grande).
When he finally met other Spaniards, near Mexico’s west coast, these "friends" wanted to enslave his followers. But, having developed strong sympathies for the indigenous population, he got the Spaniards so lost in the desert they had to agree to release the Indians in return for being led back to safety.
Later on, in 1540 he was appointed governor of Rio do la Plata (now Paraguay, Argentina and surroundings); as in North America, he was unusually sensitive and benevolent towards the Natives. He was the first European to behold the Iguazú Falls, among the most spectacular in the world. But political intrigue and resentment against him led to his arrest and return to Spain in chains. He was eventually exonerated, then wrote an extensive report on South America, which, bound with his La Relación was published under the title Comentarios (Commentary).
Shown in Cabeza de Vaca’s “Narration” is a spectrum of tribal personalities indicative of something interesting in the human condition: Take 20 similar people (or even 10, 50 or 100, seminarians, priests, ballerinas, accounting geeks or soccer players) and isolate them. Previously unobserved facets of personality will emerge while the various personalities differentiate, separating further and further. Over time, one will exhibit more leadership traits, another become the most noticeable care-giver; one will be more of a clown, yet another the leadership's main enforcer. Sexuality will differentiate also, so that all various possible roles be more fully represented.
This may take place as specialization can increase personal value to others. Less ego- or anthro-centrically, it involves a natural tendency to leave no space (niche, physical or character type, involving tendencies, proclivities, orientations) unfilled, unused.
One individual will tend to ruffle feathers, another to soothe. One will be more aesthetically inclined, one more of a bum (maybe the same one, maybe not). Similarly, one tribe will be more friendly to outsiders, another more suspicious, reserved, willing to take offense. Some will prefer the seashore or at least proximity to water, while others prefer mountains, desert or high plains. Some will give more importance to vowel sounds, while a competing group may prefer to use guttural consonants.
We like our distinctions, but use similarities to bond. The distribution phenomena is not without contradiction, and hardly explains everything, but that is the case with much science. Cabeza de Vaca was at least observing, instead of just asserting, as was so sadly the case with so many other “explorers”.
This kind of differentiation was also depicted by William Golding in “Lord of the Flies”; something similar is shown through the development of new powers and capacities by groups with this or that mental illness, in Philip K. Dick’s “Clans of the Alphane Moon”. On the other hand, some character traits seem locked-in and predictable in some folk; even though patterns can change, old proclivities are likely to creep back into opinions expressed in conversation, mood tendencies, activity choices. Habitual behavioral tendencies can be a cultural thing, sometimes similar in cultures extensively separated geographically, while extremely dissimilar in groups living close by in quite similar ecological territory. The meekest of a really warlike group might be more warlike than the most aggressive of a peaceful people, but one of a group of thieves will be more trustworthy than the others. We have a tendency to differentiate, but even this differentiation is differentiated – the spectrum shown in Asia is hardly the same as the spectrum shown in Africa. That Asia and Africa have not experienced the isolation of the desert tribes encountered by Cabeza de Vaca was surely an element involved in that.
For a long time his work was regarded with skepticism, until archaeologists found heavily trampled ground, as would occur from hundreds if not a thousand or more people dancing and jumping around all night if not for days, as narrated and in places within accord with the narration.

In his unintended description of social variety, Cabeza de Vaca described tribes of the early 1530s in the area we now know as Texas. With one tribe, “When one takes a woman for his wife, from the day he marries her, whatever he may hunt or fish, she has to fetch it to the home of her father, without daring to touch or eat of it, and from the home of the father-in-law they bring the food to the husband. All the while neither the wife's father nor her mother enter his abode, nor is he allowed to go to theirs, or to the homes of his brothers-in-law, and should they happen to meet they go out of each other's way a crossbow's shot or so, with bowed heads and eyes cast to the ground, holding it to be an evil thing to look at each other or speak. The women are free to communicate with their parents-in-law or relatives and speak to them. This custom prevails from that island as far as about fifty leagues inland.”
In another, “It is a custom of theirs to kill even their own children for the sake of dreams, and the girls when newly born they throw away to be eaten by dogs. The reason why they do it is (as they say) that all the others of that country are their enemies with whom they are always at war, and should they marry their daughters they might multiply so much as to be able to overcome them and reduce them to slavery. Hence they prefer to kill the girls rather than see them give birth to children who would become their foes.
“We asked them why they did not wed the girls among themselves. They replied it was bad to marry them to their own kin and much better to do away with their daughters than to leave them to relatives or to enemies. This custom they have in common with their neighbors, the Iguaces, and no other tribe of that country has it. When they want to get married they buy their wives from their enemies. The price paid for a woman is a bow, the best to be had with two arrows, and if he has no bow he gives a net as much as a fathom in width and one in length. They kill their own children and buy those of strangers. Marriage only lasts as long as they please. For a mere nothing they break up wedlock.”
In a third, “The men do not carry burdens or loads, the women and old men have to do it, for those are the people they least esteem. They have not as much love for their children as those spoken of before. Some among them are given to unnatural vices. The women are compelled to do very hard work and in a great many ways, for out of 24 hours of day and night they get only 6 hours’ rest. They spend most of the night in stirring the fire to dry those roots which they eat, and at daybreak they begin to dig and carry firewood and water to their houses and attend to other necessary matters. Most of these Indians are great thieves, for, although very liberal towards each other, as soon as one turns his head, his own son or the father grabs what he can. They are great liars and drunkards and take something in order to become intoxicated. They are so accustomed to running that, without resting or getting tired, they run from morning till night in pursuit of a deer, and kill a great many, because they follow until the game is worn out, sometimes catching it alive. Their huts are of matting placed over four arches. They carry them on their back and move every 2 or 3 days in quest of food; they plant nothing that would be of any use.
“They are a very merry people, and even when famished do not cease to dance and celebrate their feasts and ceremonials. Their best times are when ‘tunas’ (prickly pears) are ripe, because then they have plenty to eat and spend the time in dancing and eating day and night.”
A bit later in his narration he says, “In this whole country they make themselves drunk by a certain smoke for which they give all they have. They also drink something which they extract from leaves of trees, like unto water-oak, toasting them on the fire in a vessel like a low-necked bottle. When the leaves are toasted they fill the vessel with water and hold it over the fire until it has thrice boiled; then they pour the liquid into a bowl made of a gourd cut in twain. As soon as there is much foam on it they drink it as hot as they can stand, and from the time they take it out of the first vessel until they drink they shout, "Who wants to drink?" When the women hear this they stand still at once, and although they carry a very heavy load do not dare to move. Should one of them stir, she is dishonored and beaten. In a great rage they spill the liquid they have prepared and spit out what they drank, easily and without pain. The reason for this custom, they say, is that when they want to drink that water and the women stir from the spot where they first hear the shouts, an evil substance gets into the liquid that penetrates their bodies, causing them to die before long. All the time the water boils the vessel must be kept covered. Should it be uncovered while a woman comes along they pour it out and do not drink of it. It is yellow and they drink it for three days without partaking of any food, each consuming an arroba and a half every day.
“When the women are ill they only seek food for themselves, because nobody else eats of what they bring.
“During the time I was among them I saw something very repulsive, namely, a man married to another. Such are impotent and womanish beings, who dress like women and perform the office of women, but use the bow and carry big loads. Among these Indians we saw many of them; they are more robust than the other men, taller, and can bear heavy burdens.”

Dick posits psychiatric diagnostic groups differentiated themselves into seven clans: The Pares are paranoids who function as the statesman class and live in a heavily fortified settlement. Some have developed "psionic powers". The Manses suffer from mania; they are an active class, warrior class. They live amidst “a hodgepodge of incomplete projects, started out but never finished.” They operate a television transmitter constantly try to stage a coup d’état. The Skitzes are schizophrenic poets and religious visionaries. The Heebs suffer hebephrenia (disorganized schizophrenia) and live in Gandhitown, “an inhabited garbage dump of cardboard dwellings.” To the other clans, their only use is for manual labor, but some are religious visionaries, mostly ascetic saints (as opposed to the dogmatists among the schizophrenics), with "visionary powers". The Polys suffer from polymorphic schizophrenia; they’re the creative members of society, producing new ideas. Children from all clans are born Polys, then become differentiated in their tenth or eleventh year. Some never became differentiated, though, perhaps having no mental disorder at all. Ob-Coms have obsessive-compulsive disorder (some might once have been called anal-retentive). They are the clerks and office holders of the society, ritualistic functionaries lacking original ideas. Their conservatism balances the radical quality of the Polys, providing social stability. Lastly, the Deps are sufferers of clinical depression. They live in Cotton Mather Estates “in endless dark gloom.”
Dick himself could be said to have suffered from any or all of the psychiatric disorders referred to there, and they are hardly representative of anything but his imagination, but the novel does show the concept of the value of differentiation even with accompanying weaknesses. Unity is not the only form of strength.

There are various ways of intentionally manipulating personality. Widely known is behavior modification or operant conditioning (an academic-obfuscatory term from Latin ‘that works,’ present participle of operari ‘to work’ - coined in 1937 by behavioral psychologist B.F. (“Fred”) Skinner to indicate “involving behavior modification”… operant also means effective, a person or thing that operates, functioning or tending to produce effects, of or relating to the observable or measurable, or even behavior (as bar pressing by a rat to obtain food) that operates on the environment to produce rewarding and reinforcing effects. Or too, relating to, or being a response that occurs spontaneously and is identified by its reinforcing or inhibiting effects. Thus, something with measurable results; as, for instance, a fairly scientific method of evaluating personality change or achieved learning.
Skinner noted that the best way to understand behavior is to look at the causes of an action and its consequences, set out to identify the processes which made certain behaviors more or less likely to occur, especially in terms of responses, internal or external, as in stimuli from the environment that increase probability of a behavior being repeated. Behaviors have consequences, and living organisms tend to learn from them. Changes in behavior are the result of an individual’s response to events (stimuli) that occur in the environment.
Reinforcement, anything that strengthens a response (desired or not), can be negative or positive (as in the carrot or stick analogy). One learns to behave so as to obtain rewards and avoid punishments, and behavioral psychologists examine how this works, especially in terms of effective reinforcement schedules. Behavior modification can reduce a variety of behavior problems. It can also be called ‘brain-washing’ and involve more than just overtones of Orwellian manipulative techniques, an also the effects of ‘soma’ as described in Huxley’s “Brave New World”. The methods of behaviorism can have positive effects even on severe autism, but problems can come from inappropriate application or intent, poor assessment, and/or poor design and/or implementation. Much of this goes back to early animal-training, but, for instance, unlike obedience training that gets and animal to perform specific actions when requested, there is an ideal in behavior modification of manipulating a total change in reaction - producing not simply compliance, but change in attitude (thinking or feeling) and thus action also. This can be particularly significant in terms of uniformed services training, keeping zoo animals from boredom to the extent of severe depression, and could conceivably help with rehabilitation of penitentiary convicts, although to date that might remain controversial if not outright objectionable. Unfortunately, along with lowered interest in education and learning over the decades of improved “information technology” (and simultaneous increases in financial concerns), interest in techniques of behavioral conditioning have decreased also.
Behavioral modification techniques which condition voluntary behaviors that are maintained over time by the consequences that follow those behaviors, can be for a moral good or, equally, for something questionable! Whether conditioned behavior is always perfectly voluntary, remains a debatable issue.
Training affects personality, as does affection, animosity, activity, luck and especially genetics and epigenitics. Personality can and perhaps should take a lead in directing enquiry and thought, and thus education, but stifled personalities often do not do that. Trauma will produce personality change quickest; positive reinforcement is slow, except when done with love, which tends to reinforce what is already there.

Operant conditioning my not make one more creative, more vain, or more flexible, although is certainly can change one, as shown in Kubrick’s “A Clockwork Orange”.
Some people are going to be more materialistic, others more hedonistic, some more punitive, others more hospitable. Some will be more ego-driven, vain and acquisitive, others will be more niche-adapted and stable. This may apply to groups as well as individuals, as seems to be shown by the Amish, Masai, Australian Aborigines and other relatively extreme groups.

Barometric pressure, ions and wind affect human moods. As also the kind of events reported as news. Sometimes also, there seems to be an inexplicable increase in hilarity in a region, or adventuresomeness. People in a specific area might, for a time, be more melancholic than usual, or show tendencies to irrational optimism. There might be a general increase in irritability, anger, suspicion &/or self-doubting. Similarly, might be a decrease in bad moods, either from an increase in negative ions or a decrease in bad news, or perhaps from reasons we’ve yet to discern. The individual is affected by much that he or she cannot even be aware of. Moods are contagious, as with yawning, and occasionally crowd hysteria, but sometimes walls separate people similarly affected by emotional weather, and not just the weather of barometric pressure and ions. It could relate to other physical events; it could relate to “collective unconscious” polities. It might even be spiritual, but it happens. It might sometimes be an aftereffect of a popular fashion.
But we should not pretend that there is no group dynamic, or even that we know of each grouping that we participate in. We are social, we are dependent, and one can not only not decide everything, one cannot even be aware of everything. To pretend otherwise is self-defeat (the popularity of which might well depend on emotional weather).
Not only our emotions are dependent on a wide variety of factors, but our rational thinking also. We can be presented with too much data. Perhaps sensory deprivation produces dysfunction from too little data, as can isolation. Our verbal, and rational, processes are affected by a variety of subconscious cues. What goes on in our lower digestional guts certainly affects how we feel and think, and muscular activity also has its affects.
Some attribute much to the stars – perhaps they have reason to not want to look closer to home. It is important to recognize that strengths usually have corresponding weaknesses, vice versa, and that our strengths and weaknesses aren't "reflections" of the society we live in, but rather, components of it. And when you enter someone else's psychological territory you pay a fee. When folk from different physical territory but similar psychological position meet, there may be what feels as if an inexplicable sense of recognition. Mostly, we know where it is safe to go, and stay to it; outside of those boundaries internal changes must begin,threatening possibility of return. And no-ne is safe outside of their niche, and by it we define, and delineate, our world.

Whether it’s stormy weather, totally enraging politics, the season of beatniks out to make it rich, the summer of waiting to find out who shot JR Ewing of Dallas TV show, the day after the atomic bombing of Nagasaki or the one after Mighty Casey struck out, there might be at least as good a legal defense in the emotional weather that contributed to one’s legal delinquency as ever was affluenza.

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