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Feedback Loop

9 min read

This is a story about reality checks...


When you're amplifying a signal - for example, a microphone connected to a public address loudspeaker - then you have to be careful that you don't get the microphone too close to the speakers, or else you will get horrible feedback.

My blog is read by friends who've known me for years & years, but I very rarely meet up with them. Sometimes I get an email or a Facebook message, and it's jaw-dropping that they understand me and what I've been going through so well. The usual trite platitudes (e.g. "why don't you try getting more exercise?") are certainly applicable to anybody and it does show that you care, but it's a wonderful experience when I communicate with friends and they've got all this background info on me.

Regarding my blog, only very rarely will anybody ever present an alternative opinion, or challenge me. I think I have a fairly persuasive manner of putting a point across, and I write with a great deal of certainty; forcefulness. It must be somewhat intimidating: the idea of potentially entering into debate with me.

A strange thing starts to happen when you think about things in isolation too much. Because I work with boolean algebra for a living, I start to think of everything as binary: there's a right answer and a wrong answer. I can use a lot of deductive reasoning to arrive at a set of beliefs that evolved purely from logic - a priori - as opposed to being shaped by experiences, discussions and human relationships. I labour the same points, over and over again, becoming ever more certain in my convictions and better and better at defending my position; entrenched in my stance.

It's quite satisfying to present your thesis quod erat demonstrandum.

Weirdly, if nobody calls you out on anything, then you assume that you must have made a valid unassailable point. When somebody does call you out on something, then things get a bit more fun, because you have to decide whether to dig into your trenches and defend, or whether to concede the validity of an alternative viewpoint that had not been considered.

I used to have a certain attitude that could be surmised as follows:

"Fuck you. You're wrong"

Once you have constructed a fairly infallible piece of logical reasoning, being told "no, I disagree" is the most frustrating thing in the world. You can't just disagree with something. It's point/counterpoint. You need to make your own reasoned counterargument. Contradiction is just stupidity. It's very frustrating to deal with people who don't even realise that they're complete idiots.

I deal with idiots for a job: they're called computers. If I tell a computer to jump off a cliff, it will do it. Computers just follow my instructions to the letter. Computers follow my logic with 100% precision. Being a computer programmer quickly teaches you how to logically reason things, leaving few loopholes. If you leave loopholes, these are called 'bugs'. Bugs will cause rockets to explode, trains to derail or aeroplanes to crash.

And so, a computer programmer arrives in the real world, and they're experts at spotting cognitive dissonance. "Fucking immigrants, coming over here, taking our jobs"... but, but, but you're an immigrant, stutters the programmer, incredulous that somebody could be so stupid as to not see the flaw in what they're saying.

Anyway, I'm not even part of the debate. I'm watching from the sidelines, writing my manifesto; proselytising my theology; broadcasting my dogma. Nobody is questioning the validity of anything I'm saying. Nobody is challenging my assumptions. Nobody has yet said "you're wrong, and this is why...".

Even to say the word manifesto sends a shiver down my spine. I fear that I might have gone mad. There are so many vilified people and policies, linked to a manifesto. In Britain we are not particularly terrified of communism. Being called "red", "Marxist" or "Trot" is not even pejorative, to me. However, if you were to point out that Anders Breivik also wrote a manifesto, and so did Hitler, then I start to feel a little defensive.

But, how the hell are you supposed to develop a political ideology, if you don't write it down? If you can't express a set of values and ideals for the betterment of humanity, then what? Am I only allowed to select from a menu of just a few mainstream choices? Of course, this is what party politics wants. The idea is that we should vote for party, not policy. If we voted for policies that we wanted as citizens, we'd be getting dangerously close to having a democracy.

If voting made any difference, they wouldn't let us do it.

I worry like crazy about how isolated and weird I'm getting, honing my ideas and developing my system of values, without very often discussing what I'm thinking over a pint of beer, with a good friend in the pub. Obviously, one must be mindful that Mein Kampf was conceived while Hitler was in hospital, and started when he was incarcerated. It's mad to speak this aloud, but I'm always asking myself: "am I more like Hitler or Jesus".

Christian values are actually pretty cool. Forget the ten commandments, because, I mean, rape isn't even on there. Graven images: no frigging way! Rape: no problem.

Jesus Christ was an awesome dude. He basically founded the Occupy Wall Street movement when he turned over the tables of the money lenders in Herod's Temple. Does that make him an anti-semite though? Could that have been a hate crime, given that it was an attack on Jewish businessmen, in a holy Jewish temple. Certainly a controversy worth pondering.

Then you get to thinking that Jesus Christ, The Prophet Mohammed and Adolf Hitler, all thought that earning interest should be abolished. Hitler was a socialist, as was Stalin, but then so was Tony Blair and he started an illegal war that ended up killing hundreds of thousands of innocent Iraqis. It's all so damn confusing.

To my mind, if you have a political system that's successful for the vast majority of people, the educated bourgeois can go to hell. To hell with your freedom of speech. To hell with your attempts to pervert government to better serve your own needs, at the expense of the majority. Go buy yourself a desert island if you want to run things in your own selfish interests.

Eventually, I arrive at the decision that it might be better to just write a utopian novel that merely disguises my manifesto. It should be no surprise that I've extensively read Orwell and Huxley. However, the dystopian novels seem to have become instruction manuals for our governments. Perhaps novels are powerfully influential, in all the wrong ways.

I love the Roman idea of the forum. The Internet discussion forum is a wonderful invention. The online communities are a lovely place to inhabit.

My writing and debating skils - or lack thereof - were honed in the arena of the online discussion forum. In a way, I did a lot of growing up, by reading, writing, trolling, debating and very often being shot down in flames.

Now, I have brought those writing skills, and the skill of making a reasoned argument expressed in a succinct and persuasive manner, to bear in the world of blogging.

I deliberately chose a non-Wordpress platform, because I wasn't looking for yet another blog and to connect with yet more bloggers. All the bloody comments sections are filled with other bloggers, link building back to their own blogs. It's such a ridiculous echo-chamber of people all clamouring for readers. How can you compose your thoughts and reach conclusions, when embryonic ideas are critiquéd so immediately?

I could have started to write on Medium, and I'm thrilled that my friend whose startup powers this blog, is now working for them. It might sound like intellectual snobbery, but there is a higher standard of writing and comments on Medium, than anywhere else on the 'Net right now.

But really, the biggest win for my blog has been to inform a bunch of my old friends from my discussion forum days, what the hell happened to me when I "went off the rails". It's been an opportunity to defend myself against malicious rumours. It's been an opportunity for me to ward off the shame and sense of failure, for things that happened.

Finally, the nicest thing happened the other day: I met up with a friend at the pub, and he reassured me that I'm still the same person who he knew, all those years ago, before the whole horrid mess in the middle. It's an immense relief to know your personality hasn't changed, your brain hasn't been damaged and the person that friends once knew, still lives and breathes and hasn't been replaced by some demonic creature.

Life is pretty hard without feedback, but equally, it's been useful to write at length without the debate that so ground me down and made me unwell before. It's a horrible thing, to be so misunderstood, and to feel like the people who are supposed to care about you are working against you. It's so hard to argue with multiple people at once. It's so hard to defend yourself against a mob.

Publishing is super powerful. Publishing is like a megaphone, to shout down the bullies.

However, the occasional reality check has very high value.