Thursday, February 11, 2010

Mental Compartments

One of the blessings of being in Iraq with no cell phone and slow internet service was single tasking. You may know that as concentrating on one thing at a time. Reading a book without interruption, writing without bobbing through 20 windows checking Twitter, three email services, and a dozen Web sites. Now that I am back, I am trying to keep myself from returning to multi-tasking, to the false efficiency of doing five things badly rather than one thing well.

When I was multi-tasking myself, I did not see as vividly how the act of multi-tasking seeps back into our minds and dissolves our mental integrity. One of the hallmarks of modern life is stuffing our many lives in compartments that do not touch each other. That can lead having multiple beliefs and assumptions that really do affect each other, but we keep them in separate places in our minds, as if our memory were a series of Tupperware containers keeping work, family, hobbies, beliefs in their own little worlds in our heads. That is how people can look at religion as a buffet--taking a little Bhuddism here; a little Christianity there; maybe believe in angels, but not devils; or believe in Heaven but not Hell; as if these complex systems of belief were nothing more than raw material for whatever makes someone feel good.

At this point you could be IMing a friend, watching American Idol, thinking 'Whatever, Dude.' But if you are still reading, I can tell you that being in the land that discourages multi-tasking let me see more clearly what it does inside people's heads.

When we were getting ready to go home, we got a briefing about medical benefits. The sergeant who was giving the briefing made it clear to us that he believes our country does not need health care reform. His politics are in one compartment. Five minutes later he tells us why Pennsylvania wants to be sure we all know about the benefits we have. When the Brigade that preceded us mobilized in 2007, 42% of the soldiers did not have medical benefits when they mobilized. Out of 4000 soldiers, 2320 had medical benefits, 1680 did not. These were not street people. They were not illiterate. But 42% were uninsured. The two thoughts that 'The Health Care System is OK as it is' and '1680 out of 4000 soldiers in this brigade getting deployed to Iraq have no health care' stayed in their own compartments in his mind.

It would be no good pointing out this contradiction. He would have an answer if challenged on this contradiction. He sees what his beliefs allow him to see and will bend what does not fit until it aligns with is belief. So if his political views tell him 'my side is right, the other is wrong' then no actual fact--not even 1680 uninsured facts--sitting in front of him will change his mind.

The Philosopher of War and Terror and Politics: Hannah Arendt

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