Break your boxes, but remember them


We live in boxes.  no matter how deeply we examine the world around us, our perception is restricted. This restriction takes place at both a physical, biological level as well as on a constructed socio-cultural level. These boxes will always be there, but that does not mean they cannot be expanded or broken.

It is all too easy to see restrictions as prisons. Indeed, many of them can become prisons, but perceiving them exclusively as such is not valuable. Humanity has not created its numerous restrictions upon itself in order to slowly imprison itself. These boxes function like bricks. They build a navigable world for us that appears to have a degree of solidity. Without our boxes, nothing would make sense to us.

Yet despite the solidity – the ‘reality’ -our boxes create for us, we paradoxically are not living in anything ‘real’ at all, for our boxes are interpretations, solidified by socio–cultural consensus and the brain’s incredible pattern building capabilities.

My aim in this article is to persuade that our boxes need opening and our bubbles bursting, but not before understanding what purpose they served. We should pursue the knowledge restricted by our self-created bubbles, yet hold onto the structure of our former cages lest we fall into an unnavigable nihilistic existence.

Biological boxes

The first of the boxes we must recognise are the biological ones. A human’s senses are not perfect. Bats hear better than us. Cats see better than us. There is more of the world to experience than we are physically able to. This really is an astounding fact. No matter how hard we try, we are unable to experience everything there is to in the universe. We will never see every colour in an image, never smell every scent present in a flower. It is all to easy to assume we experience the world in its fulness, yet our experience is but a fraction of the world.

On a neurological level, the restrictions continue. The brain is tasked with a momentous role:  to control its body and react correctly to its surroundings. A big part of this job is determining what is important to even register.

Imagine for a moment if you placed the same value of importance on absolutely everything you experience. That dripping tap in the background is as clear as the sound of birds in the garden and both are suddenly as important as the conversation you are having with your partner. Things you used to completely ignore are now given the same weighting as the matters you really care about.

This would be too much to handle. You would go mad. Instead, the brain is highly selective. We perceive only a tiny fraction of the world around us. Though this is clearly for our own good – to stop us being overwhelmed with input – it also means our ‘reality’ is a mere shadow of what it could be.

The boxes of culture and society

A large proportion of our boxes are sociocultural phenomenon. These boxes build up from the very beginning of our lives and build up as we travel through it. We are all born in a specific place and most of us remain exposed only to the microcosm of that place for many years.

In that time, cultural boxes form. What language will I speak? What nationality will I have? Which god(s) will I follow? A brand-new human baby doesn’t get to answer these questions for itself – they don’t get to choose their first sociocultural boxes.

Instead our surroundings form our first restrictions for us. In my case, I write in English today because I was born in the UK. I was brought up by atheists, and so was not immediately exposed to religion. I had a Dutch name and was born to New Zealander parents, so built a very fluid national identity. These count amongst my first boxes.

Our options – break, or ignore?

Considering our boxes, both inherited and constructed, a question arises:  Is it right to ignore our boxes, or do something about them? Let’s consider first the easy option – Ignorance. The clear advantage is stability. Ignoring the borders of perception keeps us grounded and lets us believe we understand our surroundings. It is, at least on an individual level, safe.

Such a state of existence is arguably fine. That is, until something goes wrong or changes. If we believe in a solid world, we are not equipped for when it changes or collapses. Does this happen? All the time. Political developments, divides in religion, social conflict; these are all boxes under pressure. All it takes is a brief look into the history books to know that these boxes regularly fall to pieces.

Another option is to identify our boxes and take a long, hard look at them. There is an expansive history of doing so in philosophy. Buddhism teaches of the illusory nature of our existence and encourages the systematic breaking of illusions with the intention of discovering truth and freeing oneself from the prison of this existence.  Nietzsche attacked numerous social constructs, even bravely challenging the existence of morality, in order to pursue the true potential of the individual.

The path of breaking boxes is a path of discovery and life affirmation, but is no doubt also dangerous. For every broken box, the former stability of one’s personal illusion shakes a little more. Indeed, Nietzsche was eventually driven mad by his own philosophizing (plus opiates). Is it really worth pursuing a life of deeper understanding if it eventually leads to total nihilism and madness?

The answer is to reject our identified boxes, but continue to inhabit them. What does this mean in practice?

To challenge perception itself requires extreme scepticism. Amongst the strongest role models for this kind of thinking is Robert Anton Wilson, a man who can perhaps be described as a radical agnostic. In his book, ‘The Cosmic Trigger’, Anton Wilson attempts intentionally to change his perception of reality by exploring as many modes of understanding existence as possible. On the course of his journey he meets God, the devil, communicates telepathically with extra-terrestrials in the Sirius star system and chases the illuminati.  Despite experiencing very real encounters with such figures, he neither accepts nor rejects their existence.

By doing this, Anton Wilson inhabited realities he didn’t believe in. Instead, he committed to what he calls ‘reality tunnels’; the perception we solidify around us to match our sociocultural understanding. Anton Wilson’s reality tunnels are our boxes, and his experiments in their subjectivity show how morph-able they are.

The key point to realize here is this: If we do indeed match our perception to our understanding, then playing with perception will radically change our understanding of our existence. Breaking our boxes is the key to a new world.

Breaking sociocultural boxes

Society and culture are difficult to challenge because they fight back and are bigger than the individual. Culture is built from collective reality tunnels and the majority adhere to that reality tunnel. Otherwise the culture would cease to exist. As discussed above, it is clearly valuable to challenge the reality tunnels of culture, but to do so is more than likely to be considered by society as a transgression. Moreover, you are estranging yourself from the culture.

This is precisely why it is necessary to in some sense hold onto the boxes we endeavour to dismantle. Though there is much to learn by dissecting subjective reality, each incision can be estranging and ultimately life denying.

Let’s take an example from contemporary discourse: gender.

The sexes are divided biologically, but the different characteristics of gender are predominantly socially constructed. We are still considerably restricted by the social construct of gender and as such it is worth challenging. Gender is however a deeply solidified construct that society is vehemently defending. Society would be freer without the restraints of gender, but stepping out of the gender box still attracts the ire of society.

Can someone pursuing the dissolution of their gender constraints find a balance? Can their box be blurred whilst not being ostracised from society to some degree? Let’s apply the concept of ‘remembering’ the former box. This manifests itself as a form of extreme empathy. The challenger of gender constructs will eventually, even in the most liberal of places, be confronted by the elements of society defending the construct. The challenger could fight back, but to do so risks becoming the enemy of society, and society is stronger. We are however all familiar with the reality tunnels of established culture and empathising with them serves the challenger two-fold. They keep their community and their community is more likely to listen and eventually accept the challenger’s ideas.

Challenging biological boxes

We can, with some creativity, also explore further our biological limitations. There is of course a major difference between challenging socio-cultural boxes and biological boxes: the former deals with the realm of thought, the latter with perception of material phenomenon.

It may not be possible to dissolve physical material with thought, but our perception of the physical world is widely subjective. Each person’s senses are different and the degree to which each person engages with the world around them varies. Because of this, though biological boxes cannot be broken in the same way as their socio-cultural counterparts, striving to understand them in a new way is very possible.

Let’s take sight as an example. Human eyes are set at a particular field of view. A camera however is not. If a photographer wishes to take a photo with a similar perspective to what we see through human eyes, they are likely to use a 50mm lens. If the photographer changes the lens, the perspective of the camera’s shots will differ from that of the human eye.

By simply changing a camera lens, we can learn that a human’s direct perspective of the physical world is not the only possible perspective. The physical world can truly be seen in ways not usually open to us. Within those hidden perspectives, whole new worlds await.

Break your boxes

Without to some extent holding onto the reality tunnels we reject, we lose our greatest asset in the search to find value in breaking them in the first place: acceptance and contentment with your newly created world. Free thinking spirits are almost by definition strongly individualistic, but we remain social creatures. As much as society and culture can seem to imprison us, most of us need society. The individual who explores existence is better off for it, but leaving society would destroy most of us.

Because of this, the adventurer of human existence has one choice – to break their boxes, but to remember them.

 

 

 

Is Japan afraid to fix its overwork epidemic?


On an empty train station platform in rural Japan, there is a poster pasted on the wall with a message in imposing red letters: “Stop Karoshi!” Karoshi is a phrase meaning ‘death by overworking’, and the concept has become so normalised that it has entered the Japanese lexicon. The phenomenon, despite efforts to counter it, appears set to stay.

At first glance, the Japanese government appears to be working hard to battle the nation’s unhealthy working hours, but its current approach is at best superficial and at worst a purposeful avoidance of the problem.

The first case of Karoshi was recorded in 1969, and since then the number of annual deaths has not reduced. According to the Japanese labour ministry, 190 people died of karoshi in 2017. Almost half of those were suicide victims, driven by their working hours to take their own lives. Karoshi came more clearly into the public eye after the death of Miwa Sado, a journalist at NHK, Japan’s national public broadcasting organisation. She was found dead in her apartment still clutching her phone. She had clocked up over 159 hours of overtime in the month leading up to her death.

Attempts by the Japanese government to address the overwork epidemic have been widely ineffective, though the need for change is reflected in the statistics. According to a survey in 2016, 1 in 5 of the working population is at risk of Karoshi. 21% of the working population are working over 49 hours a week, yet work productivity is at the very bottom of the G7 and below the OECD average. Instead of benefitting productivity, the long work hours affect the health of workers to a dangerous extent. Even outside of the Karoshi statistics, there were 750 worker claims in 2015 due to brain and heart failure resulting from work stress.

Last June, the Japanese government introduced Hataraki-kata Kaikaku, a new plan to combat the country’s overworking problem.  Overtime is now capped at 100 hours a month, of which any is illegal without a written agreement between the employer and the employee. Though an average Japanese worker receives 20 days of annual paid leave, many do not take it as long holidays are perceived as irresponsible in Japan. Because of this the new government plan includes 5 days of forced paid holiday a year.

It takes little effort to see that these measures do not go far enough. 100 hours a month of overtime, if taken, equates to increasing weekly hours by over half. Due to the work culture in Japan, many workers will feel obliged to take overtime to the 100 hour limit. The same situation is likely to emerge for the minimum holiday policy. 5 days will be taken, but no more. In short, the new government plans do not address Japan’s overworking culture at all, but simply change the threshold from within it operates.

Hataraki-kata Kaikaku also has an intentional loophole. The newly imposed caps are all eliminated for those making three times the average income. According to the government, this will allow employees to be paid based on performance rather than the hours they work. The claim is however unconvincing. If the cap exemption were truly a performance improvement measure, it would be applied to everyone, not just the highest earners. The exemption suggests instead that the current system relies on overworked leadership and management and that the government has no sufficient plan to tackle this for what it is: a severe structural crack in the Japanese labour force.

There is a very good reason why the Japanese government is struggling to fix the overwork epidemic. Overwork is deeply ingrained in the nation’s work culture. Effort, responsibility to family and superiors, as well as self-sacrifice are age-old pillars of Japanese culture, and in the modern age these ingrained norms have been transferred from feudal lords to the modern corporation. In the context of modern business, the old cultural standards contribute strongly to Japan’s overwork problem. Unfortunately, culture cannot be changed by policy alone; it requires wide reaching social change.

Japan is however thoroughly resilient to the social change it requires, a fact which reveals itself on numerous levels of Japanese society. The country is often heralded as a futuristic tech giant, yet still relies on fax machines and remains a cash based society. Japan has often played a major role in setting international environmental goals, but has failed to adjust its over-packaging habits. In the political world, an apathetic Japanese electorate vote for leaders they are dissatisfied with to keep a status quo. Japan does not do change, and in the world of work, that resilience is harming it.

Victims of overwork are unlikely to reduce any time soon in Japan. The deep cultural norms that the phenomenon stems from make Karoshi very challenging to sufficiently resolve, and the government’s attempts seem entirely lacklustre. The measures even appear to intentionally avoid the heart of the problem – the work culture itself. That problem is exacerbated by Japan’s hard resilience to social change. Some change may however be on the far horizon. With high profile cases such as that of Miwa Sado in the public eye, the call for tangible improvement may gradually grow stronger.

institution


I haven’t written in ages…I do have the excuse of being on holiday but nevertheless I do feel bad about neglecting you guys.  And a prior apology to ‘pouringmyartout’ for still not writing a happy piece. Sorry!

Institution

Teach them lies

Infect their minds

Come inside

It’s warm inside

We are the institution

We are your one solution

Your death leads to salvation

Your life to fuel a burning nation

You can blank our nation’s strife

We taught them lies

Infected their minds

with teachings of a different kind

Its warm inside…

 

 

please note i have nothing at all against religion, only the institution and structures behind many religions. I have no intention to offend.