Vajra Blue

Mindfulness and Compassion. Understanding trauma in young people.

Garbage in garbage out. Mindfulness as a political act?


Give me a child until he is seven and I will give you the man.

Attributed to Francis Xavier founder of the Jesuits.

Garbage In Garbage Out was a commonly used expression at the start of the personal computer age.

Many of the early home computers such as the Sinclair Spectrum, or Commodore 64, ran a programming language called basic.

If we wanted these computers to do anything we all had to try our hand at programming.

We soon learnt that computers did precisely what we told them to do. Nothing more and nothing less. and that they did exactly what they were told.

This could be very frustrating when a misplaced number or punctuation mark produced spectacularly unexpected results.

The computer equivalent of predictive text. Hence garbage in, garbage out.

This can apply just as well to the ungaurded reactions of the human mind.

There are often times when we can be taken by surprise when we display a similar response in our mind. Our reactions to situations may surprise us, or at least seem to be out of keeping with the way we would have liked to react.

The computer equivalent of predictive text.

Such automatic reactions are usually based in our early experiences growing up, in our family, in our town, in our culture. So our responses will often reflect the feedback and information about the way the world works that we received from those around us as we grew up.

If this data has been good enough, our brains will be programmed to develop self worth, confidence and a realistic appraisal of our abilities. We will also be resilient and feel we are the agents of our own lives. Having an optimistic view of our world and place within it.

There is an aphorism that states “Monkey see, monkey do”. This reflects the ability we all have, to copy actions, beliefs and behaviours to which we have been exposed. The more often we are exposed to a particular stimulus, the stronger is the message we receive, and the pressure to internalise this way of seeing the world.

The monkey part of the proverb highlights how we are often unthinking, and unknowing in how we use such learning.

If our subsequent behaviours are rewarded with attention from our environment, we internalise these beliefs and actions as good, and they will become a part of our habitual behavioural repertoire.

We then continue to live our lives as though these beliefs and behaviours were immutable laws of the universe.

Put more simply, if we are taught nonsense we learn nonsense. If we we believe this nonsense then we will spout nonsense in our turn. Or at least we will come to hold untested, inaccurate beliefs and theories about the way the world we live in, works.

On a constructive level this creates the basis for culture. A powerful force for good that holds communities together, and instils an ethical and moral basis for a secure society in which we can all live in relative safety.

When this process goes awry it can lead to the development of aberrant groups, often presenting as dangerous subcultures, which in their turn can become even more inward focussed and collapse in upon themselves with catastrophic results. Especially when they are accompanied by a charismatic leader.

The Jonestown cult mass suicide, and the Heaven’s Gate group who followed suit when the comet Hale-Bopp was in the night sky, are fairly recent examples.

Other groups can explode outwards, and there have been many groups and societies  that have been overtly hostile and aggressive to the rest of the world. China and Japan were closed to the west for long periods. Other countries continue to wage wars of conquest. Some religious groups behave in a similar fashion, while others, through ignorance attack what they do not know or understand, often to the detriment of many other people.

These beliefs can become problematic if they are out of keeping with our cultural norms.

The things that we learn about our world become our own personal, fundamental beliefs. When such beliefs include an unchallenged acceptance of what we have been taught, at a time when we were primed and vulnerable to learning, we will be receptive to their contents. These beliefs can become problematic if they are out of keeping with our cultural norms.

The further development of such patterns of belief and thought is influenced by the human tendency not only to hear what we believe we hear, but also to hear what we want to hear. This does not always reflect what we have been told or what was intended.

The message very much depends on who hears it and how it is transmitted.

For most of us, these seeds fall on stony ground, and do not take root. They are too alien to our own fundamental beliefs. However, sometimes they fall on fertile soil, and with careful cultivation and watering they come to be accepted as truth by those vulnerable people who have been chosen to hear it.

A good teacher knows this and uses this to stimulate interest in learning among their students

...leaders are well aware of the vulnerability of the child brain, and the importance of getting the indoctrination in early.
Richard Dawkins.

This is also seen in the way partisan papers and news shows selectively choose how they cover news stories. The slant given to a story is carefully chosen, in order to influence the readers or viewers to behave in a particular way. A steady drip of misinformation that gradually comes to be seen as truth.

This has a lot in common with the way a paedophile behaves, slowly grooming a child for their own purposes, telling them that they are special, and gradually one small step at a time, bringing them to accept the unacceptable: in the same way that political puppet masters seek out those who feel disaffected and disconnected from society so that they can then indoctrinate them with a personal political message.

This leads their “students” to adopt a world view that promotes the leader’s agenda, but which is disguised as something else, often as a religious act.

Those who have been induced and trained to act in this way are then seen as the problem, as is the religion that they espouse to follow, whatever form it takes. Be they Islamic jihadists or Christian pro-life campaigners.  It is the cannon fodder and not the generals who get caught.

Instead we should concentrate on those who have manipulated them into taking these actions in the first place. It is the string pullers who are the real problem.

It is the cannon fodder and not the generals who get caught. 

Perhaps this is an example of when not to believe everything that we read in the papers?

Unlike a clumsy programmer who types rubbish into a computer, these people deliberately set out to feed misinformation to their followers. Information that is carefully designed to influence them to act in ways that reflect this inaccurate programming.

Garbage in produces garbage out, often with devastating consequences for all concerned, except the one pulling the strings.

If we are to counter act this tendency is important to:

  • Engage people in society, and give them a sense of belonging, to minimise the fertile soil for extremists of any bent to sow their hatred.
  • On a personal level we should question everything.
    • Our thoughts.
    • Our emotions.
    • Our beliefs.

A mindful awareness of how we live is vital for a flourishing democratic society, where the well being of all individuals is not subordinated to the agenda of the few. Be they politicians, the capitalist rich, Russian oligarchs or those who use a religious coating to put forward their own world view.

So let us put forward a new agenda.

One where “indoctrination” is positive and is concentrated on a message about the importance of knowledge and understanding.

An agenda that encourages people to question everything. One where participation based on thoughtful consideration of all sides of the issue lies at its heart.

Lets set out to create the best world we can for everyone.

Guarding the gates to our senses.

Author: SandySB

Child and adolescent psychiatrist. Parent. Blogger.

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