Towards a Mythology of Malingering — Part 1

malinger (intransitive verb): to pretend or exaggerate incapacity or illness (as to avoid duty or work).

  • His boss suspected him of malingering because of his frequent absences from work.

— from Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary

I have been accused of malingering — of acting like some sort of sympathy vampire; of faking it, more or less, and in order to profit from the compassion of others. I have been accused, more than once and by several different people, including a couple of family members.

I find these accusations quite disturbing. They make me feel anxious, and if I’m not careful, I can get quite worked up and even feel some fairly intense anger about them too, although through honest introspection I can see that my anger in these situations is secondary and fundamentally anesthetic. It’s only purpose really is to help me cope, however dysfunctionally, with the more primary anxiety I feel in response to these accusations.

For me this anxiety is like a gasoline spill into my “thought furnace“, which is to say that it can pitch me into an autistically obsessive solution search apropos the problem of these accusations — the problem of how best to respond to them, how best to debunk them, how to defend myself against them. I wish I could tell you that my autistic neurology has succeeded — finally solved that particular problem, but unfortunately it has not…at least, not yet.

But I have made a little progress, gained a little insight — just a little. I have had a micro-epiphany, potentially useful, I hope, and would like to document it here, on the chance that it may prove useful to others, or perhaps even invite collaborators to this general project.

The upshot is this: all else being equal, an accusation of malingering is only weak evidence of its own truth.

(Here’s some dramatic music for emphasis:)

Did you know that already? I know it seems perfectly obvious to me now, but it wasn’t always, for some reason, and I have only recently come to realize it myself, and this only after thinking the shit out of it. And I suspect that most people do not understand this about malingering. I suspect that most people subscribe to the myth that we humans have such a good grasp on reality, that the human brain and perceptual apparatus function so well and are so veridical, that whenever, say, Mr. Jones accuses Mr. Smith of malingering, then it’s a safe bet that Mr. Smith has indeed malingered.

To my view, that is a myth.

To be clear, I am absolutely not claiming here that malingering itself is a myth. Nor am I claiming in general that all accusations of malingering are somehow false; nor even in particular that my own accusers were wrong (even though I do actually think they were wrong). To put it another way, what I mean here is that in the absence of any other supporting evidence, there’s really an excellent chance that any given accusation of malingering is false, especially when the accuser stands to profit from being believed.

At the risk of sounding like a tinfoil-hat conspiracy theorist (I am not, and here’s why), I’d like to illustrate this epiphany with a recent example from my own life involving the billion-dollar, global multinational insurance company that did not just accuse me of malingering, but effectively tried, convicted, and sentenced me for this alleged crime, ultimately coercing me into paying a fine equivalent to a month’s salary!

(Cue that music again:)

End of Part 1. When I finish part two, I’ll add a link for it here.

Why I Am Not A Conspiracy Theorist

Man wearing hat made from a colander and tinfoil

Image found here.

I’m not a conspiracy theorist because I understand that a conspiracy is just a gang of fools who share the control delusion that they’ve actually got things all figured out and under control. And a conspiracy theorist is just another fool who shares that same control delusion, even though he or she is not actually a member of the gang of wannabe conspirators.

The world is just not that simple. Although I do think it’s true that some people really do have more executive influence than others — at least temporarily and in certain situations — I think really anybody or any group of anybodies who seriously thinks that they’re running things, and especially anybody who agrees with them on that point — is disconnected from reality.

But that’s just my opinion, for now, and until I see a good reason to change it. But enough about me already. What do you think? I’d really like to know.

I Think This Should Be A Word: Stoogestic

I think we need a word that means something like comically foolish, majestically so. And although many of us might use royally dumb for that purpose, it’s always good to have synonyms on hand, and so I propose the word stoogestic, which is just a mashup of the words stooge — like from The Three Stooges — and majestic.

Now, I’m putting this out there because so very much of what our Doofus-in-Chief does leaves me speechless and groping for the right word to describe what he just did on behalf of all of us, but I really think the word stoogestic can be used in any context where a human being does something so regally ridiculous that it could make large groups of people laugh, even as they are snuggled up tight next to the threat of nuclear apocalypse.

To help you understand where I’m coming from, here is a nice YouTube compilation of some of T-Rump’s stoogesticisms: [Note: at the 35 second mark in this compilation is a clip where the POOTUS endorses the myth that vaccines cause autism.]

 

An Eddy In My Stream of Consciousness

Illuminated Blue and Green Water Vortex

Image found here.

I’ve been repeating myself a lot lately.

Yup, just saying the same basic thing, over and over.

I don’t use exactly the same words each time, of course, but the gist of every utterance remains essentially identical.

It’s like my stream of consciousness has gotten trapped in a thought-eddy, and my efforts to swim free only wear me out and leave me wilted — a leaf floating, spinning in an endless circle, round and round.

Really, it’s a little surprising in its predictability, and there have been moments, say, at the hopeful beginning of what seems to be something different, where I think I become aware of some long awaited change of topic, but then just when I’m about to smile with relief, I pounce back once again into my rut, and wind up saying that same damn thing that I know I’ve just said way too many times already…

Yup, been repeating myself a great deal….

How to Meditate, I Think

A man meditating at sunset.

Image found here.

I’ve been experimenting with meditation on and off since I was about 11. And if it’s true, as some have asserted, that it takes roughly 10,000 hours of meditation practice to become an expert meditator, then I figure I can legitimately claim to be such an expert, just as soon as I complete another 9,698 hours of practice, roughly speaking¹.

In the meantime, if I really want to go around offering people advice on how to meditate (and apparently I am about to do exactly that), I think it only fair to explain just what the heck I think qualifies me to do such a thing, which I have done in a previous post. So now I think I’ll just soldier forward with what I see as the very best meditation advice that I have to offer anybody, at least for now, and at this point in my meditation career, which is to say at its very beginning. In any case, and for whatever it may be worth, here is that advice:

View Meditation As A Process

To give this some context, consider that it is common for meditation instructions to look something like the following²:

  1. Sit comfortably with your back straight.
  2. When you feel ready to do so, direct your attention to your own breathing.
  3. Observe your breathing as it occurs, don’t try to control it in any way. Just allow it to happen as it happens naturally.
  4. At some point, you will realize that your mind has wandered elsewhere and that you are no longer attending to your breathing. When that happens, simply bring your attention back to your breathing and continue to observe it.
  5. Repeat steps 3 and 4 as long as desired.

Now, I believe one critical but easy to overlook aspect to these kinds of meditation instructions is that they describe a process, and it’s actually that process that is the meditation. I think it’s important to call this out, because it’s quite common to think that meditation is when you “focus on a mantra” (your breathing, an image, etc.), but these are really gross oversimplifications. It’s a bit like saying that a banana is that stick of white, doughy sweet stuff that comes wrapped in something called a “banana skin”, as though the skin were somehow not an important part of the banana. But as far as a banana tree is concerned, for example, a banana is really the whole thing, skin included. That’s really what a banana is, and similarly, meditation is really not just the attempt to focus on some mantra (breathing, image, etc.), but rather it’s the whole process of first trying to focus your attention on some object, then realizing when you’ve lost focus, and then noticing whatever you are now focusing on, accepting it and then finally bringing your attention back to the object in a repeating cycle, over and over and over again. Meditation is the whole process of doing that. I remember reading somewhere³ that each of these cycles is like a mental push-up, and its the continually sustained doing of all those mental push ups that eventually yields the long term benefits of meditation.

Distinguish between Meditation’s Goal and Outcome

Next, I like to conceptualize this meditative process as a kind of non-verbal internal dialogue that occurs between two apparently contradictory wishes. On the one hand there is the wish to sustain one’s focus of attention on some given object of meditation (mantra, breathing, etc.). And on the other is the wish to notice and to accept whatever actually happens while attempting to sustain that focus. The process that is meditation is like a conversation that shifts back and forth between these two wishes.

Now, one major benefit to this dialogue metaphor is that it highlights what I see as a critical distinction that can be made between the goal of meditation and its outcome. In fact, I think this distinction is so critical that I’m pretty sure I mostly wasted the approximately 300 hours of meditation practice that I estimate to have accumulated over the past 43 years, and this mainly because I was confused about the difference between these two key components of meditation. And it was only about 9 months ago when it suddenly dawned on me just how confused I was in this regard, and subsequently resolved that confusion (I believe) in the way I am describing. Since then I must say that my experience with meditation has greatly improved.

In any case, and as I see it (for now), the goal of meditation is no more and no less than to focus one’s attention on the particular object one has chosen to focus on while meditating (breathing, mantra, etc.). And the outcome of meditation is just whatever one winds up experiencing while attempting to maintain one’s attention on that object.

This distinction between goal and outcome in meditation points to a couple of surprising and somewhat counter-intuitive conclusions. The first of these is that when anybody tells you that they meditate “in order to relax” or “to manage stress” or even “to attain enlightenment”, I suspect the chances are high that they are actually failing to accomplish those goals. The reason I say this is because those are all more or less possible outcomes of meditation, but to my view they make terrible meditation goals. To my view, a good meditation goal, as discussed above, is simply to focus one’s attention on some object of meditation. Which points to the second surprising conclusion, which is that when anybody asks you why you are meditating, really the correct answer to give (as I see it) is something like “I am meditating in order to focus my attention on my breathing”.


Notes

¹In making this joke, I’m referencing what’s known as the “ten-thousand hour rule”, which asserts that it takes roughly 10-thousand hours of “deliberate” practice to achieve mastery in any domain (e.g. meditation). This “rule” has generated a good deal of controversy and I intend to write more about that in a future post, but for now I’ll leave you with a link to an article at Salon.com that conveys much of what I think needs to be understood about it.
²For an example of what I see as a much more expert version, see Sam Harris’s How to Meditate
³I will try to track down where I read this and add the reference in this note. If you’re interested, please check back here from time to time, and if you think it’s taking me too long, please send me a note through my Contact page to remind me.

Steven Pinker on Jokes versus Swords

“…Many moral advances have taken the form of a shift in sensibilities that made an action seem more ridiculous than sinful, such as dueling, bullfighting, and jingoistic war. And many effective social critics, such as Swift, Johnson, Voltaire, Twain, Oscar Wilde, Bertrand Russel, Tom Lehrer, and George Carlin have been smart-ass comedians rather than thundering prophets. What in our psychology allows the joke to be mightier than the sword?”

— Steven Pinker, The Better Angels of our Nature, p 633

Ten Weak Ways To Somehow Manage To Get 3 or 4 People to Read Your Blog Anyway, Maybe Because They Feel Sorry For You

Skinny guy kissing bicep

Image found here.

First, I want to thank all of you who responded so warmly to my previous blog post, Ten Powerful Ways To Entice People Into Reading Your Blog. Despite the sarcastic punchline that looms at the end of this very sentence, please know that I am quite sincere in telling you that I feel genuinely grateful for all of your warm and encouraging “likes” and comments — yup, all five of them.

Please, please don’t let that sarcasm tarnish this expression of my gratitude. I am thoroughly sincere in thanking you, and I’m actually trying to reward you a bit with perhaps a chuckle or at least a smile at the folly of what I can only assume was my newbie-blogger gaffe. Can we please, please find all this a little funny? Because if it’s not at least a little funny, then all I’ll have left is to feel smoopid — a confusing mashup of both smart and stupid, with an emphasis on the latter.

Maybe I’m just being impatient, but it’s been almost a week, and I have to guess that it must mean something that so few people found the post feedback-worthy. But what does it mean? In my opinion it’s actually a pretty good post. Believe it or not, I’m even proud of it. Is that ridiculous? If so, I hope you will find that funny too, but the fact is that I think that post was clever, insightful, practical, funny and well-written. I have no doubt that it could be improved in various ways, but only with suitable, corrective feedback from readers. Frankly, I think the post is easily representative of the very best work I can do, and that I’ve taken it about as far as I can on my own down the road toward quality.

But the facts suggest otherwise — those darn pesky facts — and especially since I used every one of the ten “powerful” ways in writing the post itself. If the ten ways really were as “powerful” as I thought they were, it certainly didn’t show in the results.

What am I missing here? What went wrong?