I feel like some of this material is covered in transactional psychology, though my understanding of transactional psychology is heavily influenced by Robert Anton Wilson so this might not be canon.

You can kick somebody down from object- or meta-level discourse (third circuit thinking, in Wilson’s terms) to tribal-level (second circuit) or stroking-level (first circuit) by being percieved as a threat to identity or to survival, respectively: isolation is treated as an existential threat, and so social strokes are treated as a proxy for being fed and protected by a community. It’s only when someone has bodily comfort that they are able to fully immerse themselves in anything other than stroking-level thinking (and so, people with severe anxiety or with chronic pain often end up alternating between being needy & being standoffish — which makes their situation worse — because the effort it takes to jump up to the meta level and think clearly about how to effectively manage their need for social interaction is much more difficult for them to achieve); it’s only when someone feels like their sense of identity is not under threat from outside that they can be flexible about questioning, changing, or violating it from the inside.

In other words, when life is shitty, everyone operates with less mental capacity for abstraction, leading to life becoming even more shitty. (There are other variances in individual capability, of course, which means that just because you’re in pain doesn’t necessarily mean you’re completely screwed.)

This makes for a clear but difficult route toward improving the state of dialogue. Improving general quality of life globally will make clear thinking easier (and though it will not make for rosier topics, it will make it easier to retain emotional distance and avoid engaging in behaviors that are globally counterproductive), but pretty much every existing social or economic system is pinned against an across-the-board increase in quality of life. On the other hand, temporarily excluding the most toxic actors from conversations via shadowbans & similar mechanisms — probably the most reliable method short of improving quality of life — is already done.

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Resident hypertext crank. Author of Big and Small Computing: Trajectories for the Future of Software. http://www.lord-enki.net

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