Anosognosia, why the stupid believe they are smart

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In neurology the term anosognosia describes someone with a disability who is unaware of the disability. For example, some patients have strokes, with half of their body paralyzed, and remain totally unaware that they cannot move half of their body. When given a task to complete with the paralyzed side of their body, they give explanations unrelated to their paralysis, which they remain unconscious of, for why the task remains uncompleted.  “I’m too tired. I don’t have time to do that right now.” The condition persists and is often permanent. Someone remains permanently disabled and permanently unaware of the disability while perfectly able to discuss all kinds of topics unrelated to the disability. Anosognosia comes from the Greek a: “without”+ nosos: “disease” + gnosis: “knowledge, awareness.” It is the lack of knowledge of one’s own disability.

What’s strange to me, in living all over the world, is that certain cultures really put their citizens in a state of profound and permanent disability. Part and parcel of that disability is our ignorance of our cultural condition or, to be more direct and precise, of our relationship to LIVING reality.

Today’s article is a pointer to some reflections on both stupidity, incompetence, high competence, ignorance and, most of all, our capacity to evaluate our levels of all of these, which is far more challenging than we might assume.

We hear the word “stupidity” and think of it as an insult. When its sense is lost to us, we use it sense-less-ly. But its roots are in the latin, stupere:  “be stunned, amazed, confounded,” from PIE *stupe “hit,” from root *(s)teu- (1) “to push, stick, knock, beat”. When we discover the root pointing hidden in the words we use daily, we begin to use words to make sense of our world and what we observe in it. Stupidity, in essence, is a consequence of trauma. When it is observed on a mass scale, as in most of the “modern” world, we might begin to appreciate that the “culture” is, in fact, an anti-culture dedicated to traumatizing its participants systematically.

Modernity, under close observation, is a systematic form of stupefaction leading to anosognosia. For those who have only lived inside of modern communities, this is a shocking, perhaps even offensive statement.  For those who have lived other human alternatives it becomes grotesquely obvious.

Imperial cultures are designed to make those overrun by, then integrated into, them blithely unaware that their awareness is being systematically corralled into the very narrow, yet globally invasive, logic of empire. Much of this is done through relational trauma and disturbance, as we shall see below.

The emerging global monoculture imposes a monocropping of consciousness through a host of nutritional, educational, relational, technological, agricultural, political, monetary and religious means, applied worldwide. This is an anti-culture fully weaponized against the consciousness of its inhabitants, in the most blatant manner imaginable, with mercury and aluminum in our vaccines, fluoride in our drinking water, chemicals in our genetically-modified food and lies spewing forth from our so-called “experts.”  The characteristics of the “modern” citizen-slaves are rapidly becoming the characteristics of more and more people around the world.

“Lies spewing forth from so-called experts” sounds malicious.  Click on the link and explore the etymology of malicious and you will see that most so-called “experts” are not only malicious, but evil. But there’s a twist, and I speak as what the modern anti-culture considers an “expert” in critical care nursing.  Empire does curious things to our entire consciousness. Anosognosia is at the heart of it: we are not aware of the evil that we do while intending to “do good.” So, when one reads about “lies spewing forth from so-called experts,” it sounds willful,   but empire also destroys will and replaces it with obedience.

I take a moment of pause and review the nature of the programming, through primary, secondary and university instruction and I see that the will is precisely what has been systematically destroyed and replaced.  The lies are not exactly “willfull.” The lies are put forth by people whose “career path to success” has been paved upon, and rewarded for, their capacity to put aside reality and to parrot “accepted doctrine” and to “behave appropriately” in order to climb the institutions they aspire to “find their place in.”

Modern anti-cultures evolve from, and continue to perfect, imperial systems of institutionalizing perception. These days the bulk of our “perception” is mediated by technological means, as is the neurology that develops in the experience of mediated perception. We think of “media” as something “out there.”

Mediated experience is a means of centralizing and homogenizing the neurologies that develop in mediated experience, language, perception, and culture. It also creates mediated relationships through a means where one is in a passive relationship with a mediated and literally imaginary experience.

Many “modern” peoples’ primary “relationships” are to television characters or disembodied and literally sense-less (as in no engagement of our living senses) “friends” on Facebook. The “world” we “inhabit” is a facsimile, based on pure fakery where “social climbing” is enhanced in the measure that one masters not only the art of living in fakery, but the art of continually “marketing oneself” as the image of what one precisely is not.

“But certainly for the present age, which prefers the sign to the thing signified, the copy to the original, representation to reality, the appearance to the essence… illusion only is sacred, truth profane. Nay, sacredness is held to be enhanced in proportion as truth decreases and illusion increases, so that the highest degree of illusion comes to be the highest degree of sacredness.”

Ludwig Feuerbach, Preface to the second edition of The Essence of Christianity, 1841

Once an empire conquers and overruns a people, it does all it can to ensure that these people are not trying to overthrow the power structure on a regular basis.  The most “peaceful” way of doing this, while evolving a totalitarian anti-culture of total war, is to foment unconsciousness.  Then it does even better: it gets the conquered to identify with the culture of conquest, unquestioningly parrot whatever catch phrases it implants in their minds, and beg for more of the benefits of empire. The victims of empire become its most enthusiastic proponents.

We are trained to replace relationship to reality with narrative.

The descendants of the conquered enter a state where they cannot rise up and reclaim their consciousness, their homelands, and reactivate their ability to sustain themselves without feeding empire’s coffers, nor will they want to. Empire convinces its victims that they, too, can feed at the trough. The fabric of healthy relationships is shattered, and replaced with facsimiles and fakery, from birth onwards. We are set at odds with each other, and ourselves. Yet we also reap tremendous rewards for submitting to our debasement, and the combination of debasement and reward is called “civilization.”

Millesgarden Romulus-Remus
Remus & Romulus (founder of Rome) suckling up to the Wolf-Bitch Goddess.

This sounds shocking as most of us almost entirely ignore our own history. We may think we live in the “Americas, Europe, Australia, or Asia.” Culturally, we live in the hundredth iteration of semiticized Rome. Few of us even realize that “Western civilization” is not “European culture” but its systematic destruction and degradation. It’s an old trick. Empire teaches its children to suckle up to the Wolf-Bitch goddess.

Here’s how the famous Roman historian and senator, Cornelius Tacitus (A.D. 56-after 117) describes the simultaneous degradation and “civilization” of the British people under Roman occupation:

The following winter was spent on schemes of the most salutary kind. To induce a people, hitherto scattered, uncivilized and therefore prone to fight, to grow pleasurably inured to peace and ease, Agricola gave private encouragement-and official assistance to the building of temples, public squares and private mansions. He praised the keen and scolded the slack, and competition to gain honor from him was as effective as compulsion. Furthermore, he trained the sons of the chiefs in the liberal arts and expressed a preference for British natural ability over the trained skill of the Gauls. The result was that in place of distaste for the Latin language came a passion to command it. In the same way, our national dress came into favor and the toga was everywhere to be seen. And so the Britons were gradually led on to the amenities that make vice agreeable – arcades, baths and sumptuous banquets. They spoke of such novelties as ‘civilization’, when really they were only a feature of enslavement.-Tacitus, The Life of Agricola, chapter 21. [Bold italics added]

Everyone who grows up in a culture presumes competence. Competence is a very tricky quality to self-evaluate, a curious conundrum with some engaging resources to explore on your own.

The Dunning-Kruger effect does not only effect the incompetent. It also effects the highly-competent, making self-appraisal of competence challenging.

The stupefied live in a stupor. They vacate reality and live in a state of abstracted absence, just like anyone who has been hit hard or beaten enters a state of stupefaction.

Take a drive through a suburban neighborhood in the evening and you’ll see living room after living room with people in stupefied states. View the actual programs they are watching and you’ll see the multi-layered depth of stupefying programming as they spend hours subjecting their neurologies to endless violence, discord, horrible relationship models and scripted news. “Modern” culture is a cult of stupefaction. Stupefaction creates neurologies that are easily manipulated and corralled, based on disconnected impressions.

As a trauma nurse, when I witness stupidity, especially as a growing and almost-universal modern cultural trait worldwide, I’m not content to just say “Oh! They’re just stupid.” I wonder what is deepening the generalized stupefaction.  In the United States, nursing is defined as “the art and science of caring.” I call it “the art and science of giving a damn!”

I spent decades caring for people with neurological disorders. I worked with people in various states of stupor as they recovered from all kinds of neurological insults resulting from often-physical trauma; motor vehicle accidents, people who fell off of roofs, got hurt riding rodeo bulls, suffered gunshot wounds, stabbings, failed at suicide, and all kinds of weird accidents. I was challenged to gain understanding and competence.

The capacity to care for such people, and to help them emerge from their neurological stupor, requires having an understanding of what’s going on with them structurally, and how to support the growth of neurological structures which in turn support a more ample, connected, coherent and present engagement with the world. It also requires understanding how these experiences emerge from and impact the people who form the support structure for the patient in intensive care, including the grieving process which inevitably accompanies the hit (“stupere”, in Latin) of discovering that an apparently healthy, competent family member has suddenly experienced profound and often-permanent or prolonged changes in their health and competence to participate, and radically so.

Many critical care nurses do not like working with neurological patients. Why?

Because there are so few, objective measurements of neurological function to understand what’s going on with a patient. Intracranial pressure is measurable. Electro-encephalograms can track neuro-electrical activity. But most of the neurology has to be assessed interactively, in conversational and relational assessments through interactions that elicit responses from different parts of the patient’s brain. It’s subtle, careful work that requires a deep appreciation of how different neurological structures, and the communication between them, are engaged in daily activities, in response to questions, and reflexes.

Stupidity is a neurological condition. It is directly linked, as the very sense of the word is linked, through the Latin stupere, to being “hit, pushed, knocked, beaten, stunned and confounded.” Violence can occur physically, or it can occur relationally and developmentally– and not just with other people.

But now stupefaction is part and parcel of just about every industry that caters to dehumanizing human beings through every avenue of entry into our physiology and neurology. Spend hours a day watching violence and our neurology is continually growing in the reflection of our experience. Guzzle down the endless chemicals, neurotoxins and preservatives that are ubiquitous in commercial foods and the superbly-subtle web of divine, life-centric communication of which we are composed and dwell in the midst of is set into mind-warping confusion.

Many people tell me “I know the difference between reality and television.” Yes, our “conscious” mind is fully capable of distinguishing between something “real” and something that’s “just on television.” Many of our other brain structures, especially our relational and emotional centers, do not. We respond to, get patterned by, and hard-wire our reactions to the experiences we are having. Then the verbal self comes along and pretends to know “who we are” and “what our experience was” and “how we were affected.” Few of us realize how much of our deep experience and imprinting is not occurring in the structures by which and with which we tell the “story” of our “selves” and what is “happening” to us.  Our experience is vastly broader than “who we think we are.”

As I pointed out in Chopping Onions and Initiation, the nature of ignorance is that we ignore what it is that we ignore. Whatever we ignore simply does not register in our awareness. We are unaware of it. We don’t miss it; not individually, not even as huge populations stupefied into a “just-right-now,” mediated and mechanized experience. And brilliant people ignore many things.

“Real knowledge is to know the extent of one’s ignorance” – Confucius

Our brilliance grows in the measure that we become more aware of our ignorance.

Stupidity, on the other hand, isn’t ignorance. It’s not the lack of something appearing in awareness. It’s a crippling of the nature of awareness itself.

Stupidity is living in a stupor, of being dissociated – with one’s awareness elsewhere from wherever one’s body is. The etymological link to being hit, in the word stupid, points directly to the neurological results of abuse and post-traumatic neurological states that put people in a stupor; “neither here nor there.”

In the global monoculture spreading worldwide, stupid has become the new normal.

But it’s normal!

And normal draws no special attention or even awareness. Stupefied states are directly linked to dynamics and technology that systematically, and scientifically, shape our human development.

Monty Python’s John Cleese has a funny 1 minute video on stupidity that’s to the point. We’ve probably all seen what he’s talking about, in countless examples. Watch it and catch me on the other side, down below:

Learning of the Dunning-Kruger effect and the research done to explore it, brought me back to my work in caring for critically ill neurological patients. Teaching around the world showed me that it’s possible to create effectively-head-injured people through relational trauma and cultural institutions that systematically stupefy.

I was amazed at the level of learning difficulties I saw with “professional” people worldwide, the many “experts” whom I have worked with over the years.  Many of the people I have worked with long-term are medical doctors, therapists, university professors and educators, some of whom studied with me for a number of years. Initially I thought their difficulties were due to the format of my teaching, which I rearranged; or the content of my material, which I modified, “laziness,” but my clients almost universally expressed deep satisfaction with what they were learning. They just weren’t applying it to their lives where they had asked for help.

As I saw the same phenomenon in country after country, with people insistently continuing to study or return to study with me, even after I had suggested that they quit, it took over two years of teaching for it to even dawn on me to incorporate my neurological assessment skills into “teaching normal people.” I had assumed that “teaching” was an absolutely “different” activity from “working with neurologically-compromised patients.” I started teaching with the assumption that “I was leaving critical care nursing behind.” It didn’t occur to me, at the outset, how neurological assessment skills, and many others, would apply to teaching.  My assumption was that my patients were “normal,” and thus that neurological assessments would be irrelevant.  After all, they were “students,” not “patients.”

This is one of the profound pitfalls of our deep conditioning into thinking from labels, not by patient observation of reality.

As I was also recovering my own health in surprising ways, I also began to see “health, intellectual function, relational dynamics, economic competence and the freedom to live the life we love” as a coherent expression of underlying, living structures. I began to appreciate how profoundly and destructively people were being effected by the “culture” globally and in all aspects of their experience. I had experienced my own brain fog clearing after years of ill health, followed by levels of clarity and focus I could not have conceived of prior. I also saw how easily those trends could be reversed, if only the individual would act in their own favor.

This is a surprisingly much bigger “If” than I had ever imagined. Once again, it’s structural.  Most of us grew up in ways that programmed and rewarded us for not acting in our own favor. We learned to submit to, and be rewarded for, relational and cultural dynamics that diminished our development; that literally stupefy us, with the resulting developmental deficits, already normalized in, and thus invisible to, the culture. This creates an amazing double-bind in our structure. Simon Gottschalk explores these dynamics in his essay The Pains of Everyday Life: Between the DSM and the Postmodern.

Once these deficits are normalized and institutionalized, they are taken for granted. The quote from Tacitus, above, shows how easy it is to seduce conquered people into the imperial way of life and “the comforts” of enslavement. Today, however, the means for both seducing and degrading the awareness of the enslaved have benefited from over 1900 years of improvements, since the time of Tacitus.

A slave is developmentally dependent and thus infantile.  The entire nature of “improvements” has been to seduce the conquered to demand permanent dependency as a “right.”

The same dynamics that Dunning-Kruger point to in individuals are at play in groups, as well. Every “modern” human being is convinced that s/he is somewhere at the “cusp of human evolution.” By what means would a “modern” person realistically evaluate the competence of the culture we adapted to?

The Dunning-Kruger effect lends curious insight about our own self-perception and self-evaluation, of both stupidity and high-level competence. It also suggests that we can improve our self-awareness. The New York Times interview with David Dunning gives a great overview of his research.

I hope it lends insight into your own experiences.

Gather Seeds – of Wisdom.

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5 Responses

  1. Soundjourney

    What strikes me most about this piece is that it creates a very clear context for who and what you are as folks interact with you.

    I am completely certain that I am growing fresh pathways while working and living alongside you here – digging trenches, shoveling dirt, tending to the living beings all around and applying myself with care to the process of learning to learn.

    Head-injured? Yes! That is exactly what it feels like, when multiple time each day I’m faced with a challenge to get curious and learn something, and all I can do is be frustrated by “how hard everything is”!

    Connecting, relating, producing quality results, and cultivating abundant value – all have been out of reach, essentially because I’ve had some deluded idea about who and what I am, know, and can do that pre-empted any kind of curiosity or willingness to engage in the awkwardness of being a beginner.

    I am by no means saying here that I’ve gotten something figured out; I’m clear that I haven’t even gotten into the warmup to becoming a beginner – but I have discovered a taste of my own welcome as a human critter, unique in both constitution and potential, distinct from the engineered identity formed from my childhood experience, and while I still miss balls, I also catch a hell of a lot more than I used to.

    Thanks again for bringing your best, being who and what you are, and being an example of a great student.

  2. Soundjourney

    O, were it not for your physical presence in my world standing as an example of what it can look like to be a man with access to full vitality, joyfulness, and a deep sense of meaning and purpose, I’d have no idea what you’re talking about here. Three months ago, I wouldn’t have seen what you’re pointing to in this article.

    Being blessed with you here, however, and looking at all that has transpired in this time I see the stupefaction as clearly as if I were literally outside looking in, seeing myself reflected in the writing that you’re doing while you’re here.

    You asked me if I’d read this article yesterday; I hadn’t yet received it, so when it came today it made sense to open and read.

    As I did, I began to see you more clearly, too – your mastery, your struggle, and the nobility that you bring to your work and each day, tending to your aliveness and being up in varying degrees for spurring on the cultivation of others’.

    I treasure your contribution, welcome your reflection, and thank you for all that I have learned, am learning, and will continue to learn and grow into as a result of receiving and integrating your offering.

    • Journeyman O

      Thank you, Shawn, for your comment and appreciation.

      There’s an “edge,” or a “border” you’re describing in your comment: “Three months ago, I wouldn’t have seen what you’re pointing to in this article.” Now you do see it, from your own experience, and it’s been a whole process of coming into consciousness, from your own experience. This is precisely the only place that we can “know in-the-presence-of/together-with,” the very sense of consciousness. Together with what? With what it is that we pretend to “know.”

      In our time together you’ve discovered something about the quality of your consciousness and unconsciousness, unconsciousness being “NOT knowing in the presence-of/together-with.”

      What we call “learning,” in Western culture, is actually programmed unconscious parroting. We read and we think we “know” because we can repeat what we read. We are not with what we pretend to “know.” We are absent, not present; disconnected, not connected; dissociated, not related. Those habits of unconsciousness compose almost the entirety of our “waking” state.

      You say three months ago you wouldn’t have seen what I’m pointing to. Now you do, and you are beginning to SEE it. The SEEING is YOURS. You’re not seeing my words, you’re seeing YOUR experience, and qualities that can only be realized in YOUR experience, that the words can only point to.

      You could never get it from my words, although I’m sure many people think they can, and have. You have to look beyond the words and into your own experience.

      You’ve crossed a threshold where you’ve experienced your habitual unconsciousness. You’ve found the “edge” of your “worldview” and are now seeing that there’s an actual world to VIEW and SEE.

      Had you read this article three months ago, my sense is that you would have done the same thing with it as with many other articles I’ve called you to revisit, and what most of the people who read it do: you would have largely agreed and said “I know that!” and maybe even “I agree with that!”

      That quality of “knowing” and “agreeing with me” would have been perfectly symptomatic of unconsciousness. It’s “knowing” before actually SEEING anything in reality. It’s “knowing” as an idea that hasn’t yet connected to anything beyond our onw impressions. Can you SEE that?

      Or maybe not. I’m curious. You say, “I’d have no idea what you’re talking about.” Perhaps all you would have had are ideas about what I’m talking about, but no connection to it in your own experience.

      Writing about these things is very tricky. Most people will take it on as another idea. They won’t go to the REALITY OF IT IN THEIR OWN EXPERIENCE, which may be altogether different from what my words point to. All kinds of people are having all kinds of experience. Many are quite uniform – as was the programming we got subjected to for decades, and then remained addicted to ever since, including the notion that “thinking” without observation is somehow “intelligent.”

      The reason I’m pointing this out to you is because “power is at the edges,” and you’ve found one of yours. Stay with it!

      I’d love for you to share whatever you feel like about your insights about how you would not have SEEN what I’m writing about here 3 months ago, what you WOULD have done in reading, what the difference is now, and how someone ELSE could take a piece of writing like this to their experience, and let their EXPERIENCE deliver the insight.

  3. Carol

    O, this is a wonderful article. Thank you. Today, we criticize our growing dependence on the technology of cell phones and computers – handwriting is going by the wayside for keyboards and phones, where 2 thumbs are all you need; we no longer need our memories as our digitized contact lists provide us with that information; we do not read maps, as GPS guides us. Yet Plato saw the disuse of memory with the advent of an alphabet! To find our true wisdom today is indeed a challenge. The solution is so enjoyable: quiet listening, connecting to nature, learning to trust ourselves – it’s free and freeing.

    • Journeyman O

      Thank you, Carol! I love the reconnection that happens when I connect the shape of my Aliveness to other Shapes of Aliveness. Like you say, it’s free and freeing. I rediscover myself in the freedom to BE ALIVE and to be loved in Aliveness.

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