[Image by Robert Frank]
The Moment of Intensity
The oscillation into and out of a state of receptivity to a specific message.
This phenomenon has to do with the circumstances in which we encounter an idea, an issue, the wail of human despair, the perception of significance and the direction we choose as a result.
When crisis occurs, to the people affected, it becomes the biggest thing in the world, and owing to the subsequent political, economic, environmental upheavals, maybe it really is. In these times they are particularly receptive to vivid rhetoric, they hold an unusual inclination towards discussions that speculate in the direction of the heart of their problems. They transform from someone who thinks: not my problem to someone who demands: something should be done!
The distance we experience, from the suffering and struggles of others is valuable in that if we could feel the pain of everyone across the world as if it were our own, we would not be able to function. But because we do live in an increasingly politically, economically, environmentally, culturally connected world there is often a gap between what we think has a relation to us, and what really does.
To the sometimes tragic results of our increasingly global footprints, a massive number of organizations(and blogs) have emerged, all pointing in a different direction, at what appear to be different problems and saying: care! Furthermore, the fact that because our society is organized around profit rather than wellbeing, organizations attempting to improve the conditions of humanity are perpetually in their own crises for funding because their effects are diffuse and suffer from perceived irrelevance, free riders, and anonymity.
In their small way, these organizations add to the psychological burden of their society, both by reminding us of things that are going wrong as well as asking for scarce cash, and thus being associated with feelings of guilt.
All of this contributes to feelings of, or desires for, distance from it all, which are not so much choices as deeper conditioned states. Combine this with the relative contentment of the middle class, and the stress of modern life, and it is a very great distance any sort of galvanizing message has to travel. And the more complex it is, the more involvement the recipient feels is being asked of them, the more seamlessly it will be avoided.
A large portion of the population is in a state of perpetual escape and recovery, when not at work, and so it is often not until the storm comes to their shores, when the gravity of the moment can skew even the most thoughtful person’s analysis and resulting strategies, that they can be bothered to care.
This is not to suggest we stop trying to act, or that we should be continually stressing about conditions over which we have no obvious control. In pointing to conditions that limit the reach of statistics, facts, outreach that is contextualized even and detailed in its relevance, this is merely indicating a direction, a deeper area of influence that is a bit harder to see than what people say they want, or what they do.
We forget that sometimes it might take the right music to really reach a certain place, whether that is a state of suspended disbelief for a movie scene, a harmony of one’s mood and milieu, or an idea. Maybe there is a frequency to moments, and the waves that wash over us as we approach them can either bring us closer or further away. Industrial techno in a meadow on a sunny spring morning? Death metal at a wedding? A Disney score backing an action movie… There may need to be a sort of consonance among the images and resonances in our minds to hear or at least tentatively grant certain ideas or experiences the terms through which they might most effectively be conveyed.
We come to every meeting in the middle of a different trajectory, seeing the same terms in a million different ways, a character in a different story of good and evil, and our very linear culture takes what we see at the face value of how it sounds from our personal context, and often looks no further.
There is a mindset, a little bit below the level of a belief, that because what we are doing has a solid moral basis, what we are doing(the way we choose to pursue that cause) is right in a given moment.
Protests in a way, often reflect this condition. When stepping into the street to chant slogans, dress up, and force people to see their cause, people are stepping behind an identity that has had decades of negative associations attached to it. On the news, they don’t say: “Citizens gather to highlight unAmerican exploitation”. They use: protestor, a “type” of person rather than referring to an activity, and in doing so conflate the event with alternate instances and actors, evoking images of hooligans, vandals, riots. People peacefully protesting, being beaten by police during Occupy Wall Street was presented as: “Protestors Clash with Police” and the wider society largely accepted these framings.
It wasn’t just the methods, or the representation of people’s methods, that alienated spectators, but it was the “type of person” people don’t want to be associated with. This is an obstacle for all cultural movements where the terms environmentalist, hippy, feminist have been diligently, politically, slandered over time to the point where individual analyses or outreach raised within any of these themes is circumvented in favor of a hostile portrait of the “type of person” who thinks that way. The bumper car effect of identity plays a huge role in maintaining the ignorance that keeps the moment in which we might see a common cause at bay.
Occupy Wall Street’s success in making wealth inequality a salient topic of discussion even to the highest levels had a lot to do with the severity of crisis Wall Street cultural excesses precipitated, creating a period of relative intensity where the normally complacent-enough middle class suddenly felt a tremor of the instability that people around the world, in the “not my problem” zones, feel far more often, and often because of actions with roots right here.
The Moment of Intensity, is the moment when something that was always important only now seems so, or seems so in such a detail that it moves us. It is fleeting, and gated by all the things around us, and inside us, we aren’t noticing are effecting us.
People read the world through the dimensions of a smartphone screen, and any idea larger than a slogan requires endless scrolling down a harsh white screen. TV, games, cat videos, porn, anything that relieves the stress of a world seemingly in crisis, defers this moment. A quality of privilege is observable if, when, these escapes are effective in neutralizing pressures that drive others to dramatic and disruptive activities.
Because waiting until events have reached a state of emergency, when urgency and anger can lead to shortcuts, scapegoating, violence, is suboptimal, it is important that there be a way to connect to people between the antipodal states of complacency and crisis.
Knowing your audience will have to mean knowing more than demographics, education level. It might mean creating a wave that everyone can ride, at least for a moment, where we can all see the same thing.
Here we look for ways to be conscious of the internal conditions, the things underneath that have to this point decided for us. As we see the long tortuous trail we took to get here, new paths will open up, to each other, to ourselves.